The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
Chapter 8: Weakness
The sticks and stones|
Never broke my bones
But they scratched my skin
’Cause I made mistakes
With my humble heart
Tripping on my fate.
— Sepiamusic, Ease Me
Time passed slowly. The next day I was bored stiff. I was alone with Jane. But she did not speak; she was happy just to look at me in silence or, as now, to sleep nestled against my shoulder. She never seemed bored; she could maintain the same position for hours.
I felt I had recovered, and I hoped Eliza would soon allow me to leave the infirmary. I had finally been able to take a shower. I wondered how Jane could have stood my smell these last two days. I was careful to lock the shower door; she would have liked to get an eyeful. Sixteen was she? Ha!
I tried to think about the problem of communication, and I pondered how wonderful it would be to be able to speak to Jane, to know what she thought and how she felt. But I was no scientist, and I did not see what I could do to help things along.
Finally, I turned on the television set on the wall, hoping to find a program that would help me forget my problems for a while. I surfed the channels on the space station’s internal network; each was duller than the last. And then I chanced upon a rerun of an old program from my youth. At that time we had not yet gone to war against the Dohani. It seemed very long ago.
I was obviously no child anymore. The story that played out on the screen had been exciting for me when I was young, but now it seemed so naive it made me smile.
An hour passed. And then Jane woke up. When she heard the sound from the television set, she sat up. She looked wide-eyed at the images moving on the screen. She must have found them incomprehensible. In fact, she must find everything incomprehensible. I shrugged mentally and helplessly.
She was still watching the television show. I was amused to think that even if she was younger than I, the program was still much too young for her. Did the Dohani have television? That was something else we did not know.
I was beginning to think that Jane was going to vegetate, like me, in front of the TV, but she stood up. She went over to the wall and examined the TV screen; not the display but the unit itself. The film was not what interested her; she reached up and touched the screen. Another piece of infirmary equipment soon heading for the scrap heap, I figured.
She moved her hand slowly across the television set, no doubt probing it. Then she took it off the wall. She tucked it under her left arm and, with her right hand, examined the connections that linked it to the wall. Then she put it back.
She ignored me completely for once. With a little twinge in my heart I wondered if she were getting tired of me. I realized I had begun to take for granted the bond we had between us. But I did not know what this bond was based on as far as she was concerned. I had become attached to her probably because she never left me and because she fascinated me; she was quite simply part of my life now. I might be the only one who understood her and could anticipate her reactions, even though she kept me in a permanent state of surprise.
But what did she see in me? She could very easily decide to go out of this room and out of my life in the next five minutes. I shuddered to think that even if such a thing did not happen right away, the fear would never cease to haunt me.
What future did we have, anyway? Sooner or later I would be sent back into combat. And what would become of her? I hadn’t thought about that. She was lost here, kidnapped twice over, first by the Dohani, then by us. Unless the Dohani had manufactured her completely. In any case she was alien, probably as much as for the Dohani as for us. Even if she had been completely integrated and slept in the same dormitory as they, she was necessarily a special case among them.
The military wanted to study her and find out how she could be so quick and strong, and how she could resist poisons. And how she could see through walls. And analyze her neural implant. She was liable to spend the rest of her life in a laboratory. Alone. And knowing her temperament, I was sure she would be tearing the place apart unless they filled her full of sedatives.
I shuddered. I absolutely had to find a way to communicate with her before any of that happened.
Jane was looking for something in the room. Her gaze alighted upon a small table. She grabbed it and dragged it over to the wall, under the television set, paying no heed to the horrible scraping noise she was making. Once again she took the television set off the wall; this time she put it on the table. She began looking behind the screen, moving her face close to the unit’s casing.
Charts had been alerted by the noise and burst into the room. He had been posted nearby, as usual, to stand guard. When he saw nobody was fighting, he looked a little disappointed.
“She’s tinkering,” I explained laconically.
He nodded, crossed his arms, looked back and forth at us and said, “Well, okay, I’ll leave you to it.” And he went back out.
Jane only glanced at him when he entered, then she went back to studying the entrails of the television set.
I sat up in bed, trying to see what she was doing.
She had managed to remove the top of the unit, which exposed some of the circuitry. I realized then that the unit was still plugged in and she was in danger of getting an electric shock. But how could I tell her? And yet she seemed to know what she was doing.
I tried getting up. Since I had recuperated sufficiently, I had no problem. I walked over to the wall and pulled the plug.
Jane turned toward me. I saw a shadow pass over her face, but she did not go into combat mode. I wondered if she was capable of attacking me. Maybe she would be, if I harassed her enough.
I saw a kind of blurred movement and then saw that the plug was back in its socket. My hand was empty. She was really fast. I sighed. If I removed the plug, she would only plug it back in again.
She stopped fiddling with the components and turned to look at me.
“Danger,” I said.
She did not react, of course. I pulled out the plug and pointed to the connecting prongs. “Danger!” I repeated.
She looked at the plug but seemed to see nothing whatsoever in it that might disturb me.
There was no use in insisting on it; I gave up and pushed the plug back into the socket. Anyway the current was not very strong and the danger to her was not all that great.
I pulled up a chair and sat down next to her and watched. She separated the wires one by one. She followed the path of each wire. She was analyzing the design of the screen. She proceeded for several minutes in deep concentration. Shortly she began to grumble. She was getting impatient.
She stopped examining the television set. She got up and began to search the infirmary, examining the cabinets with her sonar. Finally she opened a drawer and took out a scalpel. It was small but obviously very sharp. My stomach began to knot up when I saw her coming back with it. Why weren’t such things kept under lock and key?
Jane returned to the table and unplugged the power cord. Finally. Why hadn’t she done that earlier? She used the scalpel to cut some very thin lengths of wire. Then she went to put back the scalpel. A very tidy girl. I wondered if she were a good cook. Oh, that’s right; she was only sixteen.
But she stopped halfway and turned back toward me with a funny expression on her face. Apparently she had just had an idea. She looked at me intensely and then held out her hand toward me in a gesture I took to mean “Don’t move.”
She stood up very straight on her left leg and, with her right, pushed off into a spin. She spun around twice and thrust out her arm toward the wall farthest from me. The scalpel whistled through the air, whirling madly as it went, and stabbed the middle of a sheet of paper she had evidently been aiming at.
The show was not over. She jumped, landed on her hands, did a somersault that ended with her hand right on the handle of the scalpel sticking out of the wall.
She pulled out the scalpel and put it back in its drawer.
Charts rushed in, late as usual. “Uh, Lieutenant? Your mouth is hanging open.”
I closed my mouth, still dumbfounded.
“Did I miss something?” Charts asked.
I took a deep breath. “Yes, indeed.” I told him what Jane had done, but I did not mention the scalpel; it would have made him nervous.
Charts saw the half-dismantled television set and pointed at it with a questioning expression. I spread my arms to show I did not know any more about it than he did. He raised an eyebrow and went and sat down in a corner of the infirmary to see what would happen next.
Jane plugged the power cord back in. The screen lit up but remained blank. But the sound was still audible. Had she broken the video display? She put the unit back together with all its parts and, finally, the casing. Then she hung it back on the wall.
She looked at me for a few seconds to make sure she had my attention. She put her hands on each side of the screen and went through her usual routine.
Very soon an image appeared. First she showed simple figures: points, lines, squares. Then more complicated ones. She drew an object, line by line. In a minute we saw it was a Dohani spaceship. I believed I recognized what we called a Delta-class cruiser.
The screen had not yet failed.
Jane continued drawing. Now she was drawing lines of colored points, one on top of the other, beginning at the top of the screen. When she had drawn about fifty lines, I understood what she was doing.
“It’s a photograph,” I told Charts. “She’s projecting a photograph directly onto the screen.”
He leaned forward on his chair. Little by little, details appeared.
The photo was of me. I was in my combat uniform, in the docking bay, the first time she had heard my voice.
“Call Kenoshi,” I told Charts. “He has to see this.”
Jane turned to me with an expression even more serene than usual; she was radiant. She looked at me for a few seconds and then went back to work.
Kenoshi came in. I told him that Jane had rewired the television set and that the screen did not seem to be having any trouble.
“This is astounding,” he said. “She can take images directly from her memory, digitize them and send them directly to a computer. Have you noticed how sharp the images are? I would really like to know what she did to that TV set, but I’ll wait till she doesn’t need it anymore.”
A wise decision. Best not to touch Jane’s toys.
And now she was projecting a photograph of a Dohani with a red skin. When she had finished, she caressed the image of the alien creature with a finger. She gave a soft moan. Then she came back over to me, sat down beside me, and put her head on my lap. She was sad. I did not know what I could say to comfort her, even if she could have understood my words.
She missed her family.
* * *