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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

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Chapter 11: Words

part 2

I decided to ask Jane a question that humanity had been asking itself for ten years: “Dohani attack human why?”

Jane froze for a few seconds. Then she turned to me with a puzzled look. She answered: “Human attack Dohani.”

Hunh? No way, the Dohani had attacked first... “Dohani attack human,” I insisted.

She again turned to me. Her look was no longer bewildered, it was cold. Her red eyes looked at me as at someone particularly annoying. She took a deep breath and, grumbling, wrote:

Human bad human attack Dohani

She put an image on the screen: a Dohani spaceship recognizable by its sleek, rounded shape. Dohani vessels were elegant, light-years ahead of clumsy human ones. They were almost aerodynamic, which was strange for craft that could not land on a planet. This Dohani vessel was civilian; at least it did not have any guns and did not seem to be armored like a military ship.

Beside the spacecraft was a Dohani space station. It looked like a slightly convex disk.

Next, Jane showed me another image. A second ship — human — had just arrived, an old model from before the war. This ship did not look like one that belonged to the Army: its hull was painted in several colors, like a commercial vessel; military spaceships were always uniformly grey. However, the human vessel had cannons and missile launchers.

Jane put up another picture. The Dohani ship had just exploded. I realized that the photo had been taken by a surveillance satellite, which had recorded the battle, if that is what it could be called... In the next image, the human vessel was firing on the space station. Hull breaches appeared. Air escaped. It was a massacre.

“Human attack Dohani Human attack Dohani HUMAN ATTACK DOHANI,” Jane wrote under the picture. A growl escaped from her throat. She was getting angry.

Next, the human vessel approached the Dohani station, which was in very bad shape. Silhouetted figures went toward the station. Humans were boarding it. In the next photo, the figures were coming back. They were carrying things. One of the things was rather large, and several humans had surrounded it to maneuver it more easily. It was the corpse of a Dohani. I shuddered.

“Human bad human bad HUMAN BAD,” wrote Jane, growling all the louder. Now she was furious. The last image showed the station exploding.

Pirates. They were pirates! A pirate vessel had attacked a Dohani station, no doubt hoping to find some loot they could sell for a good price. They had destroyed everything in order to leave no traces. But a satellite had recorded the whole scene, and the Dohani had discovered the terrible truth: humans had massacred dozens of Dohani for no reason.

That explained a lot of things. That was why the Dohani — who otherwise did not seem to be a very warlike race — had attacked us by surprise. When war broke out, we had known about them for five years, but they had ignored us. They had even allowed science vessels to approach their planets, but they did not communicate with us.

After all the trouble we had had in communicating with Jane — who was nonetheless partly human — I understood why establishing communication with humans seemed impossible to the Dohani. They were content to ignore us and not show the slightest sign of aggression toward us. But humans had killed Dodhani, and they took it as a declaration of war.

“Human bad INFINITE,” wrote Jane. For her, we were bloodthirsty, pitiless monsters out of a nightmare.

She showed a new image: another Dohani station. It wasn’t the same as the first; this one was spherical. A human vessel was approaching it. It was different from the pirate vessel, but it had the same profile: a commercial ship with weapons jury-rigged on its hull. As in the previous scenario, this ship killed the Dohani by firing from a distance; then men boarded the station to loot it and take Dohani bodies. Then they blew up the station.

“Human bad infinite human bad infinite HUMAN BAD INFINITE” Jane repeated in a rage. She turned toward me and growled even more loudly than before. Something was bothering me: why were there two pirate ships?

Suddenly she threw herself at me. Her hand clutched my throat with incredible strength. I was suffocating and could not speak or call for help.

She got up and lifted me at arms’ length, still holding me by the neck, staring at me with red eyes cold enough to freeze a neutron star. I began to black out. Jane had decided to even the score between the Dohani and humans, and I was done for.

Then a glimmer of light went through her eyes. She groaned and dropped me suddenly. I fell to the floor, trying to breathe, rubbing my throat with my hands. Jane ran to a corner of the room, curled up on the floor and continued to moan, her head in her arms.

I got up and staggered over to her. “Jane,” I croaked. My throat hurt. She really had to get over this habit of strangling me all the time. “Jane,” I repeated, “come here. I have to explain something to you.” I took her arm and she pulled away, still moaning.

“No!” I shouted. “For once you’re going to do what I say.” I pulled on her arm with all my strength, sliding her across the floor. I was ready to drag her all the way across the room, if I had to. I was ready to fight her, if I had to. I had to tell her that the whole story was a terrible misunderstanding. That the war was for nothing.

She stopped moaning and got to her feet, but I was still pulling her. At the table I grabbed my notepad; I wrote the word “pirate” and pointed to the second pirate vessel still on Jane’s screen.

She growled and wrote “human.”

I wrote:

human ≠ pirate
pirate <= human
pirate = bad
human ≠ bad

She looked more confused than ever. She wrote, implacably: “pirate bad human bad.”

That was a problem: the logic was much too simplistic. I tried to explain to her that reality was much more complex. Things are not black and white; people are not completely good or bad; there are nuances, and they are essential:

pirate = bad
human = good
human = bad
Dexter = good
Eliza = good
pirate = bad

She was still confused. She wrote again: “pirate = bad human = bad.” She was incapable of seeing beyond it. Or maybe she meant that since humanity was capable of producing pirates, all humanity was bad and had to be combated.

I sighed and insisted. “Dexter good?”

She answered, “Yes.”

“Eliza good? Charts good?”

For Eliza she answered “yes” without hesitating. But for Charts she was more careful: “Charts = 64. Charts good = 32. Charts bad = 32.”

So Charts was half good and half bad. Maybe she still held a grudge against him for hitting her with the stock of his gun on the Dohani asteroid base, where we met her for the first time.

I decided to use Jane’s technique: “human = 1000 human good = 999 human bad = 1.”

Human bad = 1000
human head broken
Dohani head broken? no
Jane head broken? no

Human head broken? Had humans broken somebody’s head but not Jane’s? No, that made no sense. Oh, I got it: human heads were broken. Jane thought we were all crazy.

“Dexter head broken?” I wrote.

“Yes,” she replied. She had no doubt about it: I was as deranged as other humans. On the other hand, she considered herself perfectly sane, like her Dohani brothers.

She turned off the viewscreen and took my hand. The discussion was over. Humanity as a race was insane. There had never been any misunderstanding: the pirates who had attacked the Dohani had convinced them that humanity was dangerous. Therefore the Dohani would continue to fight until one side or the other was exterminated.

* * *

The next morning, when we were alone again, Jane showed me her real name. While exploring an encyclopedia on a notepad to learn new words, she had come across a chapter about pet animals. She took my hand to get my attention and wrote on the viewscreen: “Jane Dohani = little white kitten.”

Little white kitten?! That was her name in Dohani? I started to laugh. She looked at me with surprise.

The fiercest warrior I had ever seen, one who had to be imprisoned in a concrete bunker and watched over by a dozen guards, was named “little white kitten”? Fortunately she could not understand; she would have surely been horribly annoyed.

* * *

Later I asked her: “Dexter belongs Jane?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Jane belongs Dexter?”

She looked surprised and answered, “No.” She explained: “Dexter belongs Jane. Jane not belongs Dexter.” Then she added something very interesting: “Jane = female. Dexter = male. Male belongs female.”

Ouch. Among the Dohani, the females owned the males. A matriarchal society. For her, it was completely normal to behave possessively with me. Males had to obey females; it was in the natural order of things.

I just hoped Charts would not become aware of this. He would never let me hear the end of it.

Proceed to Chapter 12...

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

Proceed to Challenge 516...

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