The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 14: In a Foreign Land
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.” As a prisoner of war, she and Dexter, to whom she is strangely attached, are taken to a research center, where Jane learns a human language — and much more.
Jane shows how formidable the Dohani can be. In a desperate, well-planned escape she kidnaps Dexter, borrows a spaceship and heads for home. Now the end game begins: humans and Dohani have to learn just how complex and alien each race really is. Jane and Dexter have a grander role: they will have to show that Dohani and humans need each other.
Long, long journey|
Through the darkness
Long, long way to go:
But what are miles
Across the ocean
To the heart that’s coming home?
— Enya, Long, Long Journey
Jane reprogrammed the ship’s computer with new coordinates and we jumped to hyperspace. Our spaceship raced through the stars. As the hours passed, we plunged ever deeper into the Dohani realm.
I managed to sleep despite my anxiety. I had no idea what was in store for me. Jane had told me that everything would be okay and that she would always be with me. That was her goal: to be with me all the time.
“Would you have stayed among humans,” I asked her, “if you had been sure you could have stayed with me?”
“That’s a short-sighted question,” she answered. “Sooner or later humans would have learned all they wanted to know about me and the Dohani. They’d have put me in prison and sent you back to the front lines.”
She was right. It was also what I had feared from the beginning, that she would be sent to a laboratory and I would never hear from her again. At the time, I had been very much afraid. Now, Jane had forestalled that possibility... unless she was mistaken about the way her Dohani friends would receive me. And I could hardly share her optimism about that: she was naive to think the Dohani would let her keep me; I was an enemy.
* * *
Several days passed. Jane and I did not talk very much. She was exhausted and had not had a moment to relax.
“Dexter,” she said finally, “I have to sleep.”
“Okay,” I answered with a smile, “that’s no problem for me. I’ll stand watch on the ship in the meantime.” I might have a chance to get out of this trap.
“I know you’re thinking of taking advantage of it,” she said, “by seizing control of the ship and turning it around. But the control panel alarms would waken me, and we’re very far from human space by now anyway. Also, if you shut down the hyperspace engine, we may be destroyed.”
I thought about what she had said. Unwillingly, I had to yield to the obvious: there was nothing more I could do; I had lost. “Okay, Jane. I promise I’ll leave you alone and won’t touch the controls. Is that good enough?”
Jane got up from her seat. “Thanks.”
I crawled back into my berth and looked at the ceiling.
I turned to look at her again. She seemed intimidated, and that was unusual.
“Will you...” — she continued hesitantly — “let me sleep in your arms? Please?” She tried to force a smile.
I looked away. “No,” I answered coldly.
She stood motionless, as though frozen, for a few seconds. Then she went and lay down on the berth the farthest from mine.
* * *
She slept for eight hours. When she woke up, she said nothing. She remained silent for the rest of the trip. That suited me quite well.
* * *
An alarm sounded at the control panel. “Alert,” the computer voice announced, “the hyperspace generator inverters have lost power. Prepare for return to normal space.”
The inverters had malfunctioned? That was not good at all.
“Finally!” Jane exclaimed, to my great surprise. “I was beginning to think I’d entered the wrong coordinates.”
The ship swung suddenly. I held on to my berth and yelled, “We’ll be blown to pieces! Cut the engine!”
Jane was perfectly calm. “No need. They’ll do it for us.”
We dropped abruptly out of hyperspace. Several alarms went off.
“Proximity alert,” said the computer. “Unidentified objects within very short range.”
We were not alone. A Dohani battleship and two cruisers had surrounded us. The battleship was enormous; it was so close to us it filled the horizon. Its guns were pointed at us, ready to vaporize us.
“But... what happened?”
“You’ve just learned one of our secrets,” Jane said. “We can intercept ships in hyperspace and force them back into real space.”
Theoretically that was impossible — at least according to the laws of hyperspace physics we had been taught at the military academy. I began to wonder just how far ahead of us the Dohani were in technology.
“You might have warned me,” I noted.
Jane turned to me. “I didn’t think you wanted to speak to me again.”
I scowled. The collision detector began to sound an alarm. A Dohani shuttle was approaching. It was a magnificent vessel, with sleek and elegant lines. The shuttle circled our ship.
Jane closed her eyes in concentration. Various expressions flickered over her face. I gathered she was communicating with the Dohanis aboard the shuttle.
The shuttle suddenly turned around and went away. Jane opened her eyes and put the thrusters on low power. The battleship moved aside and let us pass. We came into view of an Earthlike planet of a type I had never seen before.
“That’s Blue-58,” Jane said, “my homeworld.”
The way was clear, and Jane thumped the thruster control in a hurry to go home. The ship raced full speed ahead toward the planet.
Jane prepared the vessel for landing and cleared the circuits of the hyperspace engine. We reached the atmosphere; the wind howled around us and the ship shook dangerously. I clutched the berth in a white-knuckled grip. “Jane, do you think you could slow down?” I asked.
“No,” she answered, concentrating, “it’s much too soon.”
The ground was rushing up at us. We were bearing down on a city, and I could make out Dohani buildings — domes of various colors. At the last moment, Jane activated the auxiliary thrusters and the ship’s trajectory finally leveled off. Jane was flying so low I could count the leaves on the trees. She was flying like a madwoman, worse than the pilot of the cutter. I was paralyzed with fear. I swore never again would I let Jane kidnap me; it was just too dangerous.
We came into sight of a blue dome isolated on a plain. Jane cut the auxiliary thrusters, activated the attitude jets and sharply turned the ship about. She braked with the lower thrusters and the ship shuddered to a halt, its shields rattling. If all Dohani flew like that, they must have sent quite a few vessels to the junkyard.
As the ship stopped, Jane dropped the landing gear, cut the thrusters and antigravs, and jumped out of her seat. We were still one meter off the ground. The ship thumped to a landing, making a hole in the earth.
I pried my fingers from my hold on the berth and stood up on trembling legs. Jane hopped out, grabbed my hand on the way, and dragged me out of the vessel.
It was a fine day on the planet. The sky shone with a bright, luminous blue, and there was not a breath of wind. The dome, a Dohani house, stood a hundred meters away from the spaceship; it was dark blue in the midst of the green of the prairie. The spaceship’s hot hull creaked as it cooled.
I had a new shock. More than a hundred Dohanis were standing around us. Others were coming from the neighboring town, flying in on antigrav vehicles. The Dohani seemed to use this technology much more than humans did. And I did not see any roads.
Seeing so many of the enemy around me threw me into a panic. I snatched my hand away from Jane’s.
She turned around. “Come on, let’s go,” she said. She descended the gangway and rushed up to a small group of Dohanis who were waiting for her, standing a little ahead of the others. She embraced them one after the other, touching foreheads with them as she had with Eliza. All the other Dohanis were looking at her.
Then she turned to me. “Come on, Dexter,” she said, “We’re home. This is my family.” She indicated the Dohanis she had just embraced. They raised their arms in greeting.
“No, Jane,” I answered.
She looked confused. “You’re not going to stay on that ramp all day, are you?” she asked. “Don’t be afraid. Nobody is going to hurt you. They’re all eager to meet you.”
I took a deep breath, stiffened my legs and crossed my arms. “Jane, didn’t you tell me I was free? That I could go where I wanted?”
“Yes, of course,” she answered, surprised. “Is there somewhere in particular you’d like to go?”
“It’s obvious. I want to go home. Let me get back into the ship and go back to human space.”
She froze, perplexity yielding to disquiet. “Home? But... why?” she asked.
“Let me go, Jane. I do not belong to you.”
Suddenly, all the Dohanis turned towards me at the same time. They understood what was happening. I flinched and took a step back.
Jane saw it and said, “I’ll have them leave, don’t worry.” She closed her eyes for a moment and the Dohanis turned away and headed for their vehicles.
When they had all left, except for Jane’s family, she again invited me to come down. “You see, everything is okay now. Please come with me.”
I remained firm. “No, Jane, let me go. You didn’t ask me if I wanted to come here. As far as you’re concerned, I’m only a plaything.”
“Dexter...? Please, stay with me,” she implored. I can’t let you go back to the humans.”
“Very well.” I descended the ramp and began to walk away from her. I had no idea where I was going. It didn’t matter.
“Where are you going?” she asked. She was beginning to panic.
“If I can’t go home, I want to go as far away from you on this world as I can. I never want to see you again.”
Jane groaned. “Wait... Please, wait! Stay just a minute with me. I want to show you...” She walked after me.
“No,” I said, “it’s over. Go away. I forbid you to follow me. Goodbye.”
She stood still, shocked by my words. “Oh no,” she said, “this can’t be. How could it have happened? It’s unfair. I never had a chance to court you as I should have...”
She began to follow me again. “Give me a little time, please. For pity’s sake. It can’t end this way. I can’t live without you. I’m sorry for what I did; I didn’t know. I’m not human, I couldn’t know. Have pity on me. Let me make it up to you, I’ll do anything you want.”
“There is only one thing I want.”
Now she was completely panic-stricken. “I’m sorry, Dexter. I am so sorry. You can’t know how sorry I am for doing this to you. I beg of you, please forgive me! There must be a way...”
“No,” I snapped, “there is no way. Leave me.”
Jane was still following me, she couldn’t help herself. “All the things I can do,” she murmured, “and none is of any use, just when I need it... I hate myself. I am stupid. I’ve ruined everything.”
Finally I heard her stop. She feel to her knees, distraught. I continued walking straight ahead.
Jane began to wail in pain. I did not look back.
* * *
I was in a sparsely wooded area. The trees had large leaves, green with a bluish tint. I had not seen any animals. I found a brook and quenched my thirst, hoping the water was drinkable. I had drunk only a little and felt better; that was a good sign. I was tired, and I found a more or less comfortable place to lie down. At the foot of a tree I tried to rest and think.
I was alone for the first time in two months. I missed Jane terribly. But she had been treating me like an object, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I was furious that she’d kidnapped me.
And yet she was right. What else could she have done? Either she was a prisoner of the humans or I was a prisoner of the Dohani. Under the circumstances, contrary to what I had thought, my situation was very different from hers. The Dohani had not locked me up, and they had made no attempt to catch me. As Jane had promised, I was free.
However, I was too angry to forgive her. I was trapped on a foreign planet, alone, lost; and it was her fault. She would have done better to leave me on Aubria-3.
And that thought made me shudder the moment it occurred to me. Here, at least I knew that Jane was out there, somewhere. Had she regained her composure? Would she forget me, now that I was far away from her? Or would she decide it was better to let me go?
* * *
A noise wakened me. I had fallen asleep without being aware of it, lulled by the music of the brook.
There was a humming in the air. I looked up and saw a small antigrav car flying over, a single-seater, slim and streamlined like all Dohani vehicles. The door opened part way, and the person inside threw out a package that landed a few meters from me. The car turned around and silently departed.
I picked up the package and examined it. It contained human food, a blanket, and various things that might be useful. The Dohani knew where I was and were making sure I could survive in open country.
I ate, but nothing had any taste. I felt very empty inside. I was missing Jane more than ever. No matter what I could do, she filled my every thought.
* * *
The next day I heard a Dohani shuttle approaching. It landed or, rather, remained floating a meter off the ground about a hundred meters from me, in a small clearing.
The ramp lowered and my heart leaped to see Jane come down and head toward me. She was pale. When she was a few meters away, I saw she was trembling.
“It’s agreed, Dexter,” she said without looking at me, “you can leave. The Dohani want you to take the ship and go. And I’m ready to accept that.”
“Really?” I asked, incredulously.
“Yes. If that’s what it takes to make you happy. So much the worse for me.”
She went back to the shuttle, and I followed her. The interior was larger than in a human shuttle, on account of the Dohanis’ size. I took a seat opposite Jane. The shuttle was piloted by one Dohani; there was no one else.
Jane kept looking down, as if she didn’t dare look at me.
The shuttle took off and in a few minutes brought us back to the home of Jane’s family. Jane’s face was tight, and from time to time a tremble escaped her control.
I could not believe that the Dohani were about to let me escape. Their way of thinking was very different from ours.
The shuttle set down next to the YR-341. I walked up the access ramp while Jane went over to her family waiting for her nearby. I heard her moan while they surrounded her and tried to console her.
I took the pilot’s seat. I pressed the button that closed the door and raised the access ramp. Then I engaged the antigravs. I took one last glance at Jane, on one of the viewscreens. She was huddled on the ground. The ship began to take off.
At ten meters I decided I had done enough. Besides, I was getting dizzy. I slacked off the antigravs and the ship slowly sank back to the ground and landed. I shut off all systems and went back out.
Jane was sitting on the ground, looking at me in pain, stupefied. “You’re not leaving?” she asked.
“No. Since you decided to let me be free, I’m not a prisoner anymore. I can choose to stay with you.”
And after a pause I added, sheepishly, “Anyway, I don’t know how to fly the ship.”
She stood up, with difficulty. “You didn’t really want to leave?”
“No, Jane,” I answered, “I can’t live without you, either, and I leaving is something I simply can’t bring myself to do. I’ve fallen in love with you.”
When she heard that, she staggered, and one of the Dohanis caught her.
“But you can’t force me to do what you want,” I continued. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Jane came towards me hesitantly. “You love me?” she asked.
I nodded. She threw herself at me and embraced me. “I can hardly believe it,” she said, into my neck. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I embraced her, too. We stood together like that for a long time.
* * *