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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

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Chapter 8: Weakness

part 2

After a short while, Jane was feeling better. She went back to the screen and began drawing photographs again. She showed us a rustic countryside.

We all went up close to it and looked at the details. It was a Dohani planet, of course. There was a forest of somewhat strange-looking trees and fields with unknown plants and domed houses.

Jane tapped her finger on the image of one of the houses; it was isolated, rather far from the others.

“That’s her home, of course,” I declared.

A colleague of Kenoshi’s had arrived and was taking high-definition photos of each image. The techs had also activated equipment to record signals from her implant, although they had not made the slightest progress in decoding them.

Eliza had joined us, as well.

Next we saw a group of Dohanis in bizarre, brightly colored clothing. They were lined up facing another Dohani, who was taller than any of them. I realized they were soldiers standing at attention. Jane pointed out a detail to us. A small silhouette was standing in front of the tall Dohani, who was handing it something, a sort of stick.

“It’s a ceremony!” I exclaimed. “There, that’s Jane. She’s receiving something, maybe a kind of diploma. She must have gone to a military school.”

Jane was looking at me with her serene expression. She knew I had understood. This was obviously a favorite memory of hers.

Next, she drew another scene. It was a combat between Jane and four Dohanis. They formed a large circle; the Dohanis were armed with sticks while Jane was fighting bare-handed. Two of her opponents were on the ground while she, seen in full flight, was jumping over a third, who was raising his stick in defense, but too late; he had probably lost the contest. Jane really loved martial arts.

She showed other photos: a Dohani city, several spaceships, animals. She also displayed images of humans she knew: Charts, Eliza, Kenoshi and his technicians; but also of the members of my team: M’go, just before Jane knocked him out, Dumas trying to avoid her blows, Miller...

She had just begun drawing a new image when she suddenly staggered. I saw she had grown pale and she was gasping for breath.

“She’s sick!” Eliza exclaimed. “Let her lie down.”

Everybody stood up, but when Jane heard us, she turned around with a warning look. I was the only one who could approach her.

I went up to her and leaned down, putting one hand under her knees and the other behind her back. I lifted her up. She closed her eyes and did not protest.

She was heavier than I expected, but I had no trouble carrying her over to one of the beds. I set her gently on the bed and watched anxiously while Eliza ran her pocket scanner over her.

“I don’t see anything abnormal,” Eliza said. “That is, judging by what seems to be her normal state. No bleeding anywhere. I’ll have to take a blood test; maybe there’s an infection.”

Eliza fetched a syringe from a drawer and went up to Jane, who had opened her eyes and was watching her. “She probably won’t want me to do it. Can you take care of it, Dexter?” She handed the syringe to me.

No problem, I’d already done this sort of thing several times. But when I tried to take Jane’s arm, she pulled loose and rolled over on her side and lifted her hair. Under her skin, something was moving. I recoiled. What might it be?

There was a low hum. A horizontal slit four centimeters long appeared in Jane’s neck, just at the base of her skull. The opening grew to three centimeters in height, revealing a complex set of circuits. My hair was standing straight up on my head. Some kind of control panel was situated in Jane’s skull. Oh Mary Shelley, what a novel you could have made with this!

More humming. Two protuberances emerged from the control panel and extended a centimeter in height. They stopped and made two short beeps. Tiny lights lit up on the control panel around the two protuberances and started blinking.

Nobody said a thing. We were thunderstruck.

Then: “It must be access to her implant!” Kenoshi said excitedly. “Since she’s showing it to us now, that must be where the problem is.”

Eliza looked at him in annoyance: “Sorry, I can’t treat implants.”

Two beeps sounded again. They were going off about every ten seconds.

I went to the other side of the bed and knelt down to about the level of Jane’s face. “It’ll be okay, Jane. We’ll take care of you.”

I looked up at Kenoshi: “Isn’t there anything we can do?”

Kenoshi ran his hand through his hair helplessly. “The technology is much more advanced than ours. If we meddle with her implant we’ll have almost no chance of improving matters, and we’ll almost certainly make things worse.”

I looked back at Jane. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and rolled over on her back. She opened her eyes again, raised her arm, and pointed at the television screen.

“She wants us to bring her the TV set!” I exclaimed.

Charts took it down from the wall, but the cable was too short. We slid Jane’s bed over to the wall. Now she could put her hands on the screen, while Charts held it. She had never been so close to him before, except when they were fighting.

Jane concentrated with short, shallow breaths. Her eyes were closed. She began to tremble and then a very simple image appeared on the screen. She fell back on the bed, exhausted. The symbol was very easy to recognize. It was an electric plug.

“Does anyone have any idea what that means?” I asked. Charts was looking at me, wide-eyed. Eliza was lost in thought.

Kenoshi had the answer. “She needs electricity. Her implant must have a battery that’s been drained by drawing pictures.”

He sat down on one of the infirmary beds and scratched his chin. “The problem is that we don’t know what voltage is needed. I’ll get a laboratory generator; it can produce a current to exact specifications.” He called one of his colleagues on his communicator.

Jane had closed her eyes again, and her breathing was still ragged. I held her hand, talking softly to her, to comfort her. She was too tired to look at me as she usually did.

A few minutes later a young technician came into the infirmary, pushing a small rolling table with what looked like a block of metal on it. The machine was set up next to Jane’s bed.

The technician, glancing nervously at Jane, unrolled a large power cord. Kenoshi took two connector cables, one red and one black, attached them to the machine and handed the other ends to me.

Jane had opened her eyes and was looking at the machine. She rolled over on her side, took my hand, and brought it up to her neck. Hesitatingly I brought one of the connecting cables up to one of the protuberances. When the cable touched it, metallic petals of some kind extended from the protuberance and fastened solidly around the end of the cable. Well, that was practical.

No hesitation this time: I put the other cable in place. Jane was now hooked up to the generator.

“We’ll begin with a very weak current,” Kenoshi told his assistant. “One millivolt, one milliampere for one millisecond. We’ll increase the power gradually if she shows we need to.”

The tech set several dials under Kenoshi’s supervision and then pressed a big green button. The machine gave a loud click. Jane did not react.

“Two millivolts.”

The technician changed the settings and again pressed the green button. Click. No reaction from Jane.

“Two milliseconds, please.”


“Go back to one millivolt for five milliseconds.”

Still nothing.

“Ten milliseconds.”

Jane groaned and waved at the generator.

“Jane, what’s wrong?” I asked uselessly.

She continued to reach out toward the generator and groaned again, more loudly.

Eliza snapped, “She wants us to bring her the generator. She wants to set it herself.”

The technician pushed the table up against Jane’s bed. She changed the settings and pressed the green button. It was obvious how it was supposed to work. She changed the settings again, but they still seemed insufficient. She increased the dose significantly.

Kenoshi noted the settings: “Twenty-three volts, two amperes, three seconds.”

She pressed the green button again and groaned impatiently. The machine was beginning to get on her nerves. She reset the voltage and duration again, to a higher dose.

Kenoshi was surprised: “One hundred and fifty-three volts, forty-eight seconds, still two amperes. I hope she knows what she’s doing. She going to be taking more than three hundred watts, and that’s a lot.”

Jane pressed the green button again. This time the generator hummed loudly, probably reaching the limits of the power it could supply.

“Won’t the generator blow up?” I asked the chief engineer.

“That one? No,” he replied with a smile. “It can do a lot more with no problem. The noise you’re hearing is the components laboring. Some of them vibrate to change the form of the electric current. The greater the power, the more we hear the vibrations.”

Reassured, I turned my attention back to Jane. She had closed her eyes but was breathing more slowly. Her expression was serene again. She groaned again, but this time in contentment. She raised the voltage slightly, reset the duration to twelve minutes and pressed the button. I saw she was regaining her color. The treatment was working.

“This may take several hours,” Kenoshi said. “Obviously we don’t know what her battery technology is, and we can’t make any predictions.”

Jane held out her other hand to me. I took it and sat down beside her on the bed. Now she was the convalescent patient, and now I would keep her company.

* * *

Kenoshi and his colleague discreetly dismantled the television screen to study the modifications Jane had made. They discovered she had cut the feed to the video memory card, which the unit read to know which images to show. That’s why there were no more images, there was nothing to read. To make images, Jane had managed to induce a current directly into the card at a distance, precisely positioning each data bit.

Kenoshi had a hypothesis. Computer memory was constantly powered; otherwise the machine would not work at all. But Jane added power; that is, she induced a supplementary electrical current instead of modifying the existing current, as they had previously thought. That overloaded the computer memory and exceeded its specifications; and that was why the computers burned out.

“In addition,” he added, “the processor spends its time modifying the memory and competing with the alterations that Jane makes. That’s why the images had so much blur and static. The functioning of the processor itself was getting intereference. And that’s why the medical monitor — the one Jane started working with — began sending abnormal signals.” Kenoshi was delighted. For the first time he understood how Jane functioned.

“What’s remarkable,” he concluded, “is that she could produce any image at all under those conditions; computers are really not made for that sort of thing. But a TV screen is perfect.”

Jane continued to recharge her battery.

* * *

Jane had absorbed enough electricity. When she had finished, we heard three series of four quick beeps, which probably meant “recharge complete.” She reached behind her neck and disconnected the cables. The protuberances that had served as connectors retreated into their housings. Then the panel in her neck hummed and closed. She had regained a normal appearance. Other Dohani must have been equipped with the same system, but nobody had seen it before.

Jane curled up in a ball against my thigh and fell asleep. I felt profoundly relieved. She was cured.

Proceed to The Critics’ Corner...

Proceed to Chapter 9...

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

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