The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 9: Extraction
We were cramped for space aboard the cutter. Since this type of vessel had the advantage of making short trips, it didn’t need to provide room to move around or stretch. The passengers had to remain strapped into their berths for the duration of the trip. It was also a good safety precaution: the cutter’s thrusters were so powerful that the inertial dampers could barely compensate for acceleration.
Jane was in the berth at my right, still handcuffed. We could not allow ourselves to set her free aboard the cutter. She could have taken it to the Dohani empire in a few hours, provided she knew how to pilot it, of course.
The pilot greeted us but grumbled about Jane, whom he considered a Dohani spy. He was afraid Dohani ships would appear and attack.
Jane looked at me serenely, as usual; her eyes were deep red in the half-light of the cabin. She was calm. I wondered what message she had sent the Dohani. “Here I am. Come and get me,” no doubt. Maybe she had also sent technical information about us, as the pilot thought. But she had not seen much. She could probably draw a map of the station from memory, having spent so much time exploring the maintenance conduits. But there was no sensitive information in that.
The Dohani would certainly launch another suicide attack and sacrifice precious combat vessels just to rescue a single person. And once again they would come too late. And the humans would counter-attack a few hours later and capture the Dohani ships shortly after they had taken the space station. I hoped the Dohani would do nothing to the station personnel; they had not harmed the crew of the Phoebus.
I smiled to think that if we continued to have Jane jump from solar system to solar system, the Dohani would lose so many ships and be so weak that we might win the war. And it was far from over, unfortunately. But maybe by studying Jane we could find the Dohanis’ weak points; and that might swing the balance in our favor.
* * *
“We’re here,” the pilot announced.
In front of us was an Earth-type planet. We could hardly see its surface through the cloud layer. Aubria-3 had been easy to colonize, but it was very humid. It was one of the first planets to be terraformed, and it lay at the heart of humanity’s federation of worlds. There was little chance that the Dohani would run us to ground here, especially since they had no idea where we had taken Jane.
A radio voice: “Cutter Z-382, Kaluna spaceport here. You’re clear for landing on runway 21.”
The cutter dove into the atmosphere, roaring like a lion pouncing on its prey. We were jolted about; the piloting was rough, and the ground rushed up at us indecently fast. I hung on to my straps, hoping the pilot would be able to brake in time. Even Jane, next to me, seemed worried.
A city appeared, gray under the incessant rain; it was Kaluna, the capital of Aubria-3. The spaceport was a few dozen kilometers away.
Finally the spaceship slowed, almost reluctantly. We had reached the spaceport. The pilot lowered the landing gear and we set down hard. Ooof...
I helped Jane out of her security belts, and I thanked the pilot — but not very sincerely — after all that, I had no great wish to travel again on one of those monsters; the landing was too hard to take.
I gathered up Jane in my arms and exited the craft. Charts followed with our bags. A light rain greeted us, whipping us with gusts of wind. Jane huddled closer to me. And yet the air was warm and had a heady odor of vegetation. I had not set foot on a planet for a long time.
At the bottom of the walkway, an enormous armored vehicle awaited us, with an escort of five men and a woman, all in heavy combat fatigues even more heavily armored than our tactical gear. Even Jane could not have fought against such equipment.
An officer was waiting for us next to the vehicle, and he was smiling broadly. He looked to be about fifty years old, and his eyes were hard despite his smile. He did not seem very accommodating. “I am Colonel Redgger, assigned to the Interarm Scientific Services,” he said. “I’ll take you to where you’ll be staying.”
* * *
The trip took three hours. In this job we had to get used to sitting for a long time in uncomfortable seats. Jane must have been more than fed up with being shackled for such a long time. But she remained motionless, sitting beside me. We were between three men in armor; in front of us were Colonel Redgger and Sergeant Charts, who were surrounded by three other members of the escort.
I whiled away the time, looking at the countryside. Lots of forests; the vegetation was lush.
Redgger had told us he was heading what was now called “Operation Jane.” A team of scientists and engineers had been assembled in a research center hastily built for the purpose of studying her. What I had foreseen was finally coming true: she was going to spend the rest of her life in a laboratory. But at least I was with her. For the moment.
“Do you have any news of station S-804?” I asked.
Redgger’s face became somber. “The Dohani attacked it, as we feared. The station sent a distress message telling us that a Dohani cruiser had arrived. But since then, no news.”
Damn oh damn. But it had been almost inevitable since Jane managed to send them a message.
“However, not all hope is lost. The Dohani cruiser pushed its thrusters to the limit to come as fast as possible, the same as in the attack on the Phoebus. It’s stranded. A combat group is on the way to the station.”
I frowned. As long as nothing had happened to Eliza and the others...
* * *
We arrived at a fence three meters high; it surrounded the research center. The center itself consisted of several gray, two-story prefabricated buildings surrounding a hurriedly-built structure of concrete painted white. It would be Jane’s place of residence, the colonel explained.
“And me, sir?” I asked.
“You’ll have a room there, too. Our psychologists still think you should stay with her, and that does not interfere with the project in any way. She is very... cooperative... when you’re around. There’s no need to complicate things.”
I was relieved. I would be able to stay with Jane.
“As for you, Sergeant Charts, we have made plans for you to join the Center’s security team. We need an experienced combat veteran.”
“Yes, sir,” Charts responded.
I really did not know if he was annoyed to have to continue being a bodyguard.
We went through the checkpoint. Our vehicle stopped in front of the white building. Jane’s “house” was a kind of prison. The entrance was an airlock. The walls were thirty centimeters thick. There were no maintenance doors and no air ducts through which she could escape.
But that was as much as the building resembled a jail. It was large and comfortable, with several bedrooms, a salon and two washrooms with real bathtubs — I could hardly wait to use them. That was the advantage of being on a planet rather than a space station.
There was a gym. The organizers thought Jane might need to work out since she was obviously very athletic. And there was even a small swimming pool. They had gone to great lengths to make our “guest” feel less like a prisoner.
The colonel told me that the building’s airlock opened only from the outside. A guard stationed permanently at the entrance was under orders to open it for us as needed.
We had exited the vehicle and entered the building through the airlock, one at a time: the colonel, Charts, Jane and myself. Once inside, I was allowed to free Jane. She rubbed her wrists and then stretched, making all her joints pop. It was as impressive as ever. Then she took my hand and led me on a tour of the house, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.
The colonel was a little surprised that Jane was taking charge of the inspection. He said she could go out only when shackled. That would be no fun, I guessed, but there did not seem to be any other way.
A smell of fresh paint floated in the air. The furniture was all new, in a cold, functional style. Very military.
When we came to the gym, Jane looked very interested. It was a room ten meters square with all sorts of devices and workout machines. She examined each of them, trying to understand what they were for.
But when she saw the swimming pool, she became visibly enthusiastic. I should have expected that; on the space station she had loved to take long showers. She guessed immediately what the pool was for and wanted to jump right in. She let go of my hand, which she had been holding throughout our inspection tour, shed her clothes with her customary lack of inhibition, and plunged into the water.
She swam like a mermaid. A very seductive mermaid. Charts pretended to be examining his shoes, all the while trying to watch Jane from the corner of his eye. The colonel was staring at her goggle-eyed, and yet he must have known what to expect, he must have read the reports and seen the videos...
I stood in front of him and asked, “Sir, are there swimsuits anywhere?”
“Uh... oh, yes, hm. In the closet over there,” he answered, stammering a little.
I found a one-piece, green and blue bathing suit for a woman. I went to the edge of the pool. “Jane!” I called.
She broke the surface of the water beside me.
“You have to put this on,” I tried explaining. “It will be... uh... better for everybody.”
Jane looked at me uncomprehendingly, perplexed. Then her face became serene again. She held out her arms to me, inviting me to join her.
“No... thanks, Jane. Maybe later.” I had no desire for the colonel and especially Charts to see me frolicking in the water with a teen-age girl.
But I should have remembered the rule: what Jane wants, Jane gets. Seeing I had not decided to come in, she grabbed me and pulled me into the water.
“Hey!” I yelled.
Charts burst out laughing, and the colonel struggled to keep a straight face. When Jane heard Charts laugh, she looked at him in annoyance. Laughter had always bothered her. Then she embraced me full length, her red eyes serene again.
I sighed. “Next time, give me a chance to put on a swimsuit, okay?”
The water was nice and warm. It was really welcome after the hours of traveling; Jane had had the right idea. I climbed out of the pool and got another swimsuit out of the closet, this time one that would fit me.
“I’ll leave you two alone, Lieutenant,” the colonel said. “Relax. You’ve earned it. See you later.” He left the pool area.
I looked at Charts. “And you don’t have anything to do somewhere else,” I asked, “like meet your new comrades?”
“But sir,” he answered, “I have to protect you!”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Frankly, Sergeant, we both know I’m in no danger with Jane.”
We heard grumbling. We turned toward the pool and saw Jane leaning on her elbows on the edge and looking at me. She wanted me to come into the water, and she was getting impatient.
“You see,” I continued, “all that might happen is that I’ll get wet. I think I’ll survive.”
“Very well, sir,” he answered ungraciously. And he left us.
Later I discovered that the “house” was bristling with surveillance cameras, even in the pool area. My efforts to protect Jane’s modesty were for naught. Of course she always refused to put on a swimsuit, and I was not about to press the point.
I put on the swimsuit. I won’t go into details about how I tried, in the process, to avoid making a spectacle of myself for her benefit, and I joined her in the pool. I also tried to avoid staring at her, and I tried to remember she was a space alien. I tried to think about something else. I sort of managed. Somehow.
Our stay was off to a good start.