The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
|Chapter 10: Diplomacy|
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?
Where are you going|
And what are you thinking at all
Your eyes show nothing more
Than a dazed oblivion
What does it mean
What will I see
When I look
— The Corrs, Closer
I slept with Jane in my arms. It had become a habit. Every morning she awoke before I did, and the first thing I saw when I awoke was her red eyes observing me.
It was all completely innocent. I did not take advantage of the situation, nor did she. She just wanted to be close to me. No doubt she considered me her only friend, the only person she could cling to in her exile.
The objective of the project was to learn how to communicate with Jane, to learn everything we could about the Dohani. The scientists and engineers brought us a modified viewscreen like the one Jane had contrived aboard the space station. We could pick up where we had left off. The screen was set up on a table in the salon, where Jane could work at it comfortably. The salon also had a lot of seats and a small couch. As in the rest of the “house,” the bare walls were painted white.
Jane had no trouble using the new screen. She began again to draw images, which were duly recorded, analyzed and archived. They would make an enormous photo album showing many aspects of Dohani life, but nothing of interest from a military viewpoint.
The head scientist, Captain Lambert, discussed the problem with me. “Apparently she likes to show us all sorts of images,” he said, “but we have to go further and get her to talk or something like that.”
I frowned at him. “I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while now, but at the moment I have no idea how to go about it. I doubt she even can speak. In any case she doesn’t want to speak; it doesn’t interest her.”
“Yes, I know,” he replied. “Maybe we could be more insistent?”
I sighed. “Yes. But it’s a waste of time. When she decides not to do something, she doesn’t do it. But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try.”
That was how the first day was spent. The scientists collected data while Jane drew pictures. She was tireless. Actually, she drew all the pictures for me. I was the one to whom she always pointed out details; I was the one at whom she often glanced to make sure I was paying her the attention she was due.
In mid-afternoon we received excellent news. Station S-804 had been retaken. The Dohani abandoned it as soon as they realized Jane was not on board. The scenario was exactly the same as with the Phoebus; they scuttled their own ships and left in escape pods.
Eliza sent Charts and me a video message. She said the Dohani had not been violent and had not broken anything in the station. They had come in to search for Jane. They were so large they had some trouble moving about the corridors, which must have made their search inefficient, but they could certainly have traced her by her implant.
Eliza asked about us and hoped that Jane was being treated well. She added she would probably not receive an answer from us because we were working on a secret project, and communications were being closely monitored.
I was very happy to receive this message, and I showed it to Jane. She stroked the image of Eliza’s face on the screen. She really liked her.
* * *
That evening, the colonel came, accompanied by Charts. He was holding a small metal bracelet. “It’s a tracking bracelet,” he said. “Even though we doubt she can escape, we’re not taking any chances.”
No choice. I had to obey orders. I took the bracelet and went over to Jane. I was going to take her hand and put it on her. She pulled her hand away immediately and growled at me, something she had never done before. She refused to put on the bracelet.
I understood why she would do that. She was locked in here without being able to see the light of day and now she had to wear electronic gear too? That was going too far.
The colonel was very unhappy. He looked questioningly at Charts.
“Sorry, sir,” Charts said, “but I agree with Lieutenant Zimski. If you force her to wear it, things will get ugly. It’s not worth the trouble.”
The colonel decided not to insist. For the moment.
* * *
A noise awakened me. It was the middle of the night.
“What...?” I asked sleepily.
Jane jumped out of bed. I heard a cry of pain and I fumbled for the light switch.
Jane was standing in the middle of the room with a man lying on the floor at her feet and rubbing his cheek. When I saw the electronic bracelet beside him, I understood what had happened. The colonel had decided to put the bracelet on Jane while she was sleeping. But as Eliza had said, Jane was always only half asleep. She had heard a noise, gotten up, and decked the poor guy with a single punch.
“You’re lucky,” I told him. “She could have easily broken your nose.”
* * *
The next morning, the colonel tried again. But the results were not exactly what he expected.
Jane and I were having breakfast. Jane’s consisted of Dohani food. I was beginning to get used to the odor. That is, I could eat beside her and finish my meal. Suddenly, she stopped and looked at me in surprise.
I returned the same look. “Is something wrong, Jane?” I asked.
Indeed there was. Jane slowly got up from her chair and walked carefully over to the couch and lay down. I wanted to sit beside her, but she pushed me away. She did not want me beside her.
Disturbed, I went back to the table, but I was no longer hungry. Was she ill? Had she suddenly and finally decided I was no longer interesting? Had she eaten something that disagreed with her?
Why did she not want me with her anymore? It seemed like an eternity to me now that we had never been more than three meters away from one another, as she wished...
The colonel came in, accompanied by four men. They must have realized from the surveillance screens that something was wrong with Jane. But I noticed curiously that they had not brought a doctor with them.
I saw the electronic bracelet in the colonel’s hand, and it finally dawned on me: they had poisoned Jane. They had drugged her food so that they could attach the bracelet when she could not defend herself.
And Jane had understood, too. That was why she did not want me anymore. She must have thought I was the one who had poisoned her.
The colonel held out the bracelet to me. I ignored it and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Lieutenant,” he said, “I order you to put the bracelet on the prisoner.”
“Sorry, sir, I refuse. Your dirty tricks have made her so furious she won’t have anything to do even with me.”
The colonel turned brick-red. “Young man, you’ll do as you’re told and do it now,” he yelled, “or you’ll regret it. You can be sure of that!”
I realized I did not give a damn. I did not care if he did court-martial me, I would not force Jane to do something she absolutely refused to do. Anyway, I had an ace up my sleeve: they could do nothing without me.
We stared each other down, each waiting for the other to blink. Jane was the one who broke the impasse.
“Colonel, sir,” said one of the men, “look!”
Jane was holding her left arm out to us. With her right hand she pointed to the bracelet and then touched her left wrist. She had given up and accepted the bracelet. Had she seen I was arguing with my superior officer and wanted to spare me trouble?
“You see,” the colonel said triumphantly, “you just have to insist. No Dohani girl is going to be in command here, that’s for sure.”
I glared at him and took the bracelet. But when I went over to her, she pushed me away again. Oops, she was still mad at me. She pointed to the colonel.
“I think she wants you to put the bracelet on her. Sir,” I said and handed it to him.
He shrugged and went over to Jane. She had taken on the cold expression I knew well.
“Watch out, sir, she’s going to...” I began.
But the colonel had already put the bracelet on Jane’s wrist, and she had not attacked him. And yet it was a golden opportunity; she had the time to give him a knuckle sandwich. But I remembered the knock-out drug. She might have been able to slap him, but that must have been all she could do in her condition, and it was not worth the trouble. But I was sure she would get back at him.
* * *
Once the effects of the drug had worn off, Captain Lambert and his team came back to work with Jane. She was still angry and still did not want me to come near her. She remained prostrate on the couch, lost in her dark thoughts.
I tried to talk to her. Normally my voice would have calmed her. But after a few words she growled at me. I got the message: “Shut up!” I did. And I felt hurt. It was unfair. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had even done all I could to help her. How could I explain...?
The scientists set up their equipment, turned on the viewscreen and motioned to Jane to come and work. She refused. They were very annoyed. “Can’t you do something, Lieutenant?” Captain Lambert asked.
I smiled weakly. “Sorry. Jane doesn’t want me to speak to her anymore or let me near her. You can tell the colonel he has succeeded in destroying everything we’ve been trying to do.”
The scientists left. A day had been wasted and nothing accomplished.
* * *
That same day, in the afternoon, I was watching sports broadcasts with Charts in the salon and trying not to think about the situation. We kept quiet. Jane continued to ignore me, still flat on her back. She had eaten nothing since morning.
Charts told me he was on my side. “Forcing Jane to wear that damn bracelet could only cause trouble. I warned him.”
But the colonel was obstinate. He wanted to break Jane and show he was in control. I was a little surprised that Charts was taking Jane’s side. Might he be feeling a warrior’s respect for his peers?
* * *
That night I slept alone. I was used to seeing Jane’s face when I woke up, and I missed it. My morale was down to zero.
Jane spent the night on the couch. She seemed to have moved not a millimeter. She still refused to let me come near her or speak to her. She had not eaten for twenty-four hours. No doubt she feared her food would be poisoned.
* * *
Lambert came by, but he saw right away he would get nothing that day, either.
I went to the gym with Charts. I had not worked out in a while, and it helped me empty my mind. Charts told me about the team he was in. Most of the men were bodyguards, specialists in bare-hand combat or knife-fighting, well suited for this mission. They had never fought Dohani. Charts told them about battles and special-ops missions. They got along well. “I’m a little bored,” he said, “but I have to admit this is a vacation compared to what we normally do.”
* * *
One more day. Jane had been forty-eight hours without food. The dinners arrived regularly. They had been prepared on the outside; of course there was no kitchen in the “house.” I tried to get her to respond by bringing her some food, but she acted as though I did not exist. She remained as immobile as a statue. She was incredibly obstinate.
* * *
Seventy-two hours. This was becoming ridiculous. I was getting desperate: neither of them would give in. I tried to call the colonel, but he had my calls blocked. My days had become empty.
* * *
About noon, one of the bodyguards came with the key to the bracelet. The colonel had finally yielded. But when the man went up to Jane, she pushed him away with a terrifying growl. I sighed, took the key from him and went over to Jane, myself. She pushed me away, too, but without a sound. I was completely baffled. Didn’t she want to be freed?
She got up from the couch with a groan of pain. She stretched all her limbs, as usual. Then she went to the viewscreen. She turned it on and put up a picture of the colonel — she had learned to do that sort of thing very quickly — and then she returned to the couch. She wanted the colonel himself to take off the bracelet.
The bodyguard left. I slowly went over to Jane again. This time she opened her arms for me to join her. She was not mad at me anymore; she knew she had won.
A few minutes later, Redgger entered, accompanied by the entire security squad, which was probably not a bad idea. Since Jane had not eaten for three days, she no longer had a microgram of tranquilizer in her body. She might have been weakened, but I would not have bet on it.
She held out her wrist with the prisoner’s bracelet on it. He glared at her and unlocked it. She got up and looked him right in the eyes — Jane’s icy red eyes against the colonel’s fiery blue eyes. The fact that she was a good head shorter than he made the scene a little funny.
The guards were nervous, and I was, too. Jane and the colonel stared at each other for a full minute. Finally the colonel turned suddenly and left the room with as much dignity as he could muster, followed by his guards.
Jane turned and ran and hugged me, putting her head on my chest. I breathed deeply. I realized I had been holding my breath, afraid that Jane would leap at the colonel’s throat or the colonel, at Jane’s. We had been separated for a long time.