The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 9: Extraction
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 that cannot be resolved as long as humans and the Dohani and have no way to communicate.
Lieutenant Dexter Zimski leads a commando squad in a raid on a Dohani base and returns with a bizarre captive, one who looks for all the world like a 16-year old human girl. She is given the name “Jane.” But the question remains: not “Who is she?” but “What is she?” Human? Dohani? Neither? Both?
Jane appears not to use anything resembling a human language, but she begins to communicate through body language and by drawing pictures. Meanwhile, the Dohani are going to extraordinary lengths to rescue her. Jane and Dexter are moved to a world near the center of human space. Humans and the Dohani are now playing for high stakes. Another question becomes urgent: what is at stake?
Anarchy on the freeway|
No one’s gonna tell you how to drive
No not this time
Rubbing up on the speedway
No one’s gonna stop you from melting tires
— Casey Desmond Chilly Alston
An alarm signal sounded throughout the station. Red alert.
Jane had been sleeping for a little less than an hour. She awoke and sat up in bed.
“Attention, we are under attack,” the loudspeakers yammered. “All hands to battle stations. This is not a drill. I repeat...”
We were being attacked? I suddenly imagined Dohani cruisers in orbit around us, ready to pound us into dust. What were they doing here? We were quite far from the front lines.
I waited. There was nothing else to do. On this station I was not with the defense personnel, and I was not assigned a battle station. If I went wandering around the corridors or tried to find out what was going on, I would just get in everybody’s way.
Charts joined me, and Eliza arrived shortly afterwards, readying the infirmary to receive the wounded. “I don’t know any more than you do,” she said. “I came to my station as soon as I heard the alarm, and the people I met didn’t seem to know what was happening either.”
Jane got out of bed. She looked off into space, concentrating. We all looked at her. Had she guessed that her friends might be coming to rescue her?
She went over to a wall and put both her hands flat against it. She leaned her head to one side as though listening to something. Suddenly she tensed and a shudder ran through her body. She slid to the floor, curled up and began to moan.
I got up and went over to her quietly. “Jane, what’s the matter?” I asked.
She stopped moaning, looked up at me and opened her arms. The meaning of her gesture was clear. I sat down next to her, and she put her arms around me and clung tightly to me. I did not understand what had just happened to her. None of us had any idea.
* * *
An hour later, the alert ended and the lighting returned to normal: all clear. No wounded had arrived in the infirmary.
Jane was still in my arms, but she was no longer sad; on the contrary, she seemed happy. She had regained her serene expression.
My communicator vibrated. It was Tacoma. “A Dohani vessel just went through the system,” he announced. “It was a light craft, a single-person ship. And it does not seem to have been accompanied by any other vessel. When it passed near the station, it sent an electromagnetic signal and departed immediately. It did not attack, did not fire any missiles. Nothing. And it went by too fast for us to intercept it.”
It began to dawn on me what he was saying.
“We’ve tried to decrypt the signal,” he continued, “but Kenoshi saw right away that it was the same kind of signal that Jane can emit. We think it was a message intended for her. Obviously we don’t know what it said.”
Good grief, did the Dohani know she was here?
“We’re not sure, but we do have information. The Dohani did the same thing in another system four hours ago. A ship exactly like the one we saw passed near Station S-991, sent the same message, and left without waiting for an answer. The Dohani are looking for Jane.”
I now realized that Jane was really a top priority. She was the reason they had sacrificed three cruisers to capture the Phoebus. But they had come too late. Jane was no longer there when they attacked. And now they were sending reconnaissance vessels in all directions, trying to find her.
I told him what Jane had done, how she had seemed to be listening to something and then begun to moan sadly.
“That confirms that the message was for her,” Tacoma said. “They may have already located her. And if so, they’ll return in force. We’re evacuating you.”
True, that was the only solution. We probably did not have much time.
“A cutter is going to pick you up. Get ready. It’s a three-seater. Take Charts with you.”
Wow. A cutter was by far the fastest kind of ship we had. It combined all the leading-edge technology in propulsion and hyperspace travel. Each was as expensive as a cruiser even though it could transport only a few people. They were useful only for going from one place to another as fast as possible. I had only ever seen a few of them, and now I was going to climb aboard one of those fireballs.
“Good luck,” said Tacoma. “Make sure the Dohani don’t find her.” He clicked off.
I repeated to Charts what the Intelligence captain had just told me.
“Damned Dohani,” he grumbled. “No peace and quiet with those pesky creatures.”
I asked Charts to get my bag ready. Meanwhile I would find some way to get Jane to the departure point, where we would take a shuttle that would ferry us to the cutter.
* * *
Jane followed me without hesitation. I took her hand and she came with me, as if it were the perfectly normal thing to do.
When we were about to board the shuttle, there was a delicate moment. A security team in tactical armor was waiting for us. The chief explained that they had to handcuff Jane. “We can’t let her move freely,” he said. “Imagine what would happen if she took control of the shuttle. Or worse yet, the cutter.”
Right. That was not an attractive scenario.
The men had loaded their dart guns and were pointing them at Jane. One of them advanced toward her, carrying handcuffs. Jane turned toward him. This was going to end badly.
I quickly stepped in front of the man with the handcuffs and stopped him with a gesture. “Better give me the handcuffs. I’ll handle this.”
“Are you sure, Lieutenant?” he asked worriedly. “You’re not even in combat uniform.”
Jane grumbled and I glanced at her. She was holding her arms out with her wrists together, waiting docilely for him to put on the handcuffs. I was floored. This was the world turned upside down. “It’ll be okay,” I said. “Let me do it anyway.”
I took the handcuffs and turned to Jane. “Sorry, I have to put these on you,” I said, “but we really don’t have any choice.” I locked the handcuffs onto her wrists; they snapped shut with a click. Then I knelt to her ankles. She brought them together as well, and I had no trouble applying the shackles. It had been all so easy. I could not get over it.
Jane looked at me with her serene expression. She tried to put her arms over my head. I understood: she wanted me to carry her, since she couldn’t walk. I picked her up and she immediately nestled her head against my chest, visibly delighted.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” I said to the security team. “Good luck.”
“You, too, Lieutenant,” said the master sergeant.
I was beginning to climb the steps leading to the shuttle when a shout stopped me.
“Lieutenant Zimski!” It was Eliza, who came running. “I wanted to tell you goodbye,” she said, trying to catch her breath.
“That is sweet, Liz,” I answered. I felt touched.
“Take care of yourself, Lieutenant. And be sure to avoid toxic gases.”
Jane had looked up when Eliza approached and was looking at her intensely. She reached out and Eliza came to her in response, a little concerned at this unusual gesture. This was the first time Jane had seemed to take an interest in anyone other than myself.
When Eliza was close, Jane turned in my arms and brought her head close to Eliza’s. I thought for a moment she was going to kiss her, but she put her forehead to Eliza’s and remained motionless for a few seconds.
“Thank you, Jane,” Eliza said with a catch in her voice. “I won’t forget you, either.”
Jane moved back into my arms. It was time to go. Eliza would stay aboard the station with the rest of the crew and wait for the Dohani to attack.
I sighed and climbed aboard the shuttle, which was to take us to the cutter. I put Jane in a seat and fastened her safety belt. Then I took my place in the seat next to her.
Charts entered next, with a three-man escort that would accompany us to the cutter. Just to be ready. Just in case. Everybody was nervous about what Jane could do, even handcuffed and shackled in her seat.
Every time Jane had fought us, she had never used any other weapon than her hands. That had not kept her from flattening men who were trained, experienced, armed, and present in overwhelming numbers.
“Are you ready?” the pilot asked. “We’ve shoved off.” He ignited the thrusters and activated the antigravity. The ship began to move and then gained velocity as it sped along the launch corridor. The walls went by faster and faster and then the ship burst into space. “We’ll reach the cutter in three minutes,” the pilot said. “Stay seated.”
I tried to see the spaceship through the portholes, but it was still much too far away to be more than a point of light. Beside me, Jane was calm. She had closed her eyes and was breathing deeply, as if she were resting; but she was not sleeping.
I felt a twinge of regret as I thought of all those we were leaving behind us.
Suddenly a radio call sounded. “Cutter Z-382 to shuttle. What the hell are you doing? My defense systems have just come on line.”
The cutter pilot was talking. I frowned, intrigued. Cutters were equipped with very high-capacity sensors that would give them time to turn and run if an enemy appeared within range.
“I didn’t do a thing,” our pilot protested. He looked at his control panel to see if he had activated something by mistake.
“Shuttle, you’re emitting a broad-spectrum radio signal,” replied the cutter pilot. “Stop that immediately.”
Our pilot protested again: “But I tell you, it’s not me. No tactical detection system has been activated. And I’ve just done a complete check.”
What was going on? The shuttle was giving off a radio signal that the cutter had taken for radar seeking to target it. Probably a malfunction, I thought. The shuttle must have a problem. Or maybe the cutter had something out of whack. In either case it wasn’t very encouraging. They really ought to take better care of their equipment.
Suddenly the shuttle’s control panel lit up and an alarm sounded. “Warning,” said a computer voice, “many radio sources of unknown origin. Evasive maneuvers recommended.”
What was going on?
“This is station S-804,” a new voice said. “A dozen Dohani probes have just become active. They are minute devices and are not dangerous. But the radio signal from the shuttle has just stopped.”
Dohani probes? Here? I suddenly turned towards Jane. She had opened her eyes and was looking at me serenely. Oh no. When she had closed her eyes...
“I know what’s happened,” I shouted to the shuttle pilot. “Jane has just sent a signal to the Dohani probes. They’re sure to relay the message through subspace to a Dohani warship.”
Everybody stopped talking and digested the information. Jane had waited to send her message until she was aboard the shuttle and in space. She probably could not send it from the station because of the shielding.
“But how did she know the relay probes were there?” I asked.
Captain Tacoma spoke up. “It’s obvious, Lieutenant: the fly-by from the Dohani fighter. We thought it had only sent a signal, but it also dropped these probes. And of course it notified Jane. We’ve really been stupid. We should have sent out fighters to do reconnaissance in the sector after the Dohani went through. Why would they have sent Jane a message unless they also gave her a way to answer it?”
Yes, it was logical in hindsight.
“And that means the Dohani now know exactly where Jane is,” he continued. “Take the cutter and run. There’s nothing else to do.”
I looked at Jane and sighed. She had really taken us for a ride.
* * *