The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 14: In a Foreign Land
Jane introduced me to her adoptive family. Her mood had completely changed. She was hyper; she hopped and skipped and did dance steps.
There were seven Dohanis; they all looked alike except for their colors. They were between two and two and a half meters tall: her mother, her father, three brothers and two sisters.
Jane explained Dohani names to me. They were complicated: every name summed up several things about the person, but there was a dominant trait. “That’s why I translated my name as ‘little white kitten’,” she said. “It’s a close equivalent to the way the Dohani see me: small, pale skin, as agile as a cat, and young.”
She tried to translate her parents’ names. “My mother is calm. She manages to get the people around her to stop running, calm down and think. You might call her Irina; the name means ‘peace’.”
I had already seen her. She was the red Dohani that Jane had drawn, one of the first images she had shown me. She was the tallest in the group.
“My father is a scientist,” she continued. “He’s an expert in all sorts of fields: physics, biology, medicine, and mathematics. ‘Hubert’, which means ‘intelligent’, would fit him nicely. He’s a member of the Council of Sages.”
Jane explained that the Council was the nearest thing the Dohani had to a world government. On every Dohani world there was a Council of Sages that considered and made decisions. Apparently their organization was very loosely structured, and that seemed very strange to me.
She also told me the names of her brothers and sisters. The youngest was Kalista; she was barely taller than I, and her skin was pale blue. All the others were adults.
Having all these Dohanis standing around and staring at me with their four red eyes was a trying experience. I could hardly keep from wanting to run away.
Jane brought me into the dome, the family house, and showed me around. She would not let go of my hand, not daring to believe that I had come back. But she did not pull or push me; she had learned her lesson and wanted to make sure I knew I was not her property.
Her family stayed outside, probably wanting to avoid bothering me.
There were only four large rooms. Jane explained that the Dohani were very communitarian and had little need for privacy. There was a large family room, with a fireplace; they enjoyed a wood fire, like humans. There was a kitchen with utensils that looked oddly like those of humans, only twice as big. I felt like a child in the midst of giants.
The huge bedroom contained an enclosure like those in the dormitory where we had found Jane. The enclosure was full of small, multicolored cushions. The Dohanis all slept together there. At the end of the room were four doors, all alike.
“What are these?” I asked.
Jane gave a funny smile. She took me over to the doors and opened one. It was a miniature version of the bedroom, a small enclosure three meters square, full of cushions. The Dohanis must have wanted to sleep alone sometimes.
And there was a swimming pool in the shape of an inverted dome; typical Dohani architecture.
“Would you like to go for a swim?” Jane offered. “You’ve slept outdoors and you must want to freshen up.”
It was extremely inviting. I was beginning to get undressed when Jane stripped and jumped into the water in three seconds flat. She had also taken off her portable communicator screen. I kept my shorts on. Not out of modesty but because she was too young; our relationship would have to remain platonic until she was an adult.
Anyway, I was going to have a problem with clothing. I hoped there was something more than Jane’s female clothing on this planet.
The water was not very warm, but I was finally able to relax. I tried not to look too long at Jane’s naked body as she swam around me. I didn’t move; I enjoyed the soothing sensation of wavelets splashing me. Jane stopped swimming and came to my arms. She closed her eyes.
Since she did not have her communications device, we could not talk to each other. We did not move anymore; we each were thinking about what had happened: Jane’s miraculous escape and my detention as a prisoner of war, which was turning out rather well.
* * *
After our swim, we rejoined Jane’s parents, who were still outdoors. Her brothers and sisters had left. I learned later that they had agreed not to put me in the presence of so many Dohanis at the same time; they understood it would make me nervous.
We sat down on the grass, and an odd kind of conversation took place. Jane’s parents asked me questions, which Jane transmitted to me, and then she sent them my answers. Everything passed in silence between Jane and her parents; the communication was done through their implants, and it was very swift.
The first thing they asked me was how I had been able to resist their daughter’s charms.
The question seemed strange to me, but Jane explained it. “Things are not normally done this way. When a female Dohani sees a male she likes, she courts him. She contacts him by way of his implant and inundates him with messages of love, desire, promises, invitations... with very vivid images. I’m told the males find it very exciting and impossible to resist.”
I was learning some astounding things about our enemies. The information would be completely useless to headquarters, if I ever returned to human space someday. And I really had no desire to do that at the moment.
“The gist of it all is,” Jane continued, “‘Be mine and I will give you more love than you have ever known’.” She smiled.
“I sent you this kind of message several times, but since you have no implant, you couldn’t receive it.” She lay her head on my shoulder. “I’m sure,” she continued, “if you had been able to receive my messages, it would never have even occurred to you to leave me.”
I made a wry smile.
“Anyway,” she went on, “my parents didn’t understand how you could resist. Among the Dohani, that never happens.”
I thought about what she had been telling me. “Jane, aren’t there cases where people are incompatible? The male might lose interest in the female, or their personalities might be too different and they don’t get along?”
“Everything takes place in the mind, Dexter. With the implant, the two already know everything about each other even before they are a couple. The female already knows how the male thinks, what he likes, and so forth. She would simply not be attracted to a male who is incompatible with her.”
I was fascinated. “Do Dohanis ever get divorced? Might a male and female begin to argue and not get along anymore?
“No, that never happens. Since the partners communicate by means of the implant, they don’t argue. They remain harmonious and adapt to each other continuously. If one feels sad, the other knows it immediately and tries to console the partner. If one is joyful, the joy is transmitted to the other.”
I thought about that. The implants seemed to be capable of transmitting very complex messages. “How does communication work with your implants?” I asked. “I have the impression it goes beyond information and images.”
“The implants transmit emotions. It’s communication based on empathy. When one Dohani contacts another, they exchange emotional states. They know how each other feels, what they may be worried about or want. It’s emotions, mental images and thoughts, all at the same time. A message is made up of all those elements.”
“And that’s why we’ve never been able to decode your messages,” I said.
“Yes. It’s quite simply impossible. I tried to translate for you the message I received when we were on the space station. The main tone of the message was that they loved me and wanted to hear from me. About twenty Dohanis took part in composing it.”
“And your symbols? The Dohani do have writing...”
“It’s a transcription of what we feel. It doesn’t consist of words; it’s codes that our minds can apprehend.”
“Codes?” I asked. “But why so many?”
Jane paused, searching for a way to explain it in human terms. “Every symbol is composed of basic geometric designs. The position, size and form modulate the meaning. For one human word there are hundreds of Dohani symbols.”
She pointed to the grass we were sitting on. “The word ‘grass’ is very vague. What does this grass look like? What is its color? Its shape? Is it wet on account of rain or the morning dew? Is it soft to the touch, or is it dry and brittle? For each of these nuances, the Dohani symbol corresponding to ‘grass’ is slightly different: a line a little broader here, a circle a little more flattened there... You would see practically no change, but to us it would be obvious.”
Jane smiled and continued, “In the end, the number of symbols for the word ‘grass’ is indefinite. There are as many as there are blades of grass.”
Only the Dohani could understand each other. We would never be able to decrypt one of their messages.
“Humans,” Jane continued, “have a very poor system of communication. You can send only very simple, abstract messages. That forces me to reorder my thoughts and concentrate only on what’s essential. If I tried to say everything, it would take hours, and I wouldn’t have enough words. For us, it’s as though you couldn’t hear or speak.”
* * *
Jane turned to her mother, nodded, and turned back to me. “Irina would like to know more about divorce.”
I explained that humans had a lot of trouble in forming solid unions and that most marriages lasted only a few years.
“That is sad,” Jane said.
“C’est la vie, I said, with a shrug. “It seems normal to us. It’s hard to find someone compatible. We’re not telepathic, like the Dohani.”
We talked about family, and I gradually realized that Dohani nests were nothing like human families. A question of Jane’s set me to thinking.
“How is life organized for non-dominant men and women?” she asked.
“Yes, those who can’t have children.”
“But almost everybody can have children. Isn’t it the same for the Dohani?”
Jane looked astounded. Her parents did, too, judging by the expression on their faces. I was becoming accustomed to their facial expressions and could pick up on some signs of their emotions.
“Of course not!” she exclaimed. “Oh, my parents are reminding me that humans are different, after all.”
I was intrigued. “Jane, can you tell me more about this?”
She breathed deeply. “Okay. Most of the races we know have a hive society.”
“Most of the races?” I interrupted. “You mean there are other space aliens?”
“Yes. I expect you’ll meet members of one of them soon; they’re good friends of the Dohani. The other races we know live peacefully in their sectors of the galaxy.”
This was extraordinary information. There were other sentient races.
But Jane returned to the original subject. “Therefore, in a hive, in principle, a queen lays eggs and workers take care of them.”
“The Dohani function like that,” she continued. “There are dominant males and females, and they are the only ones who can have children. The non-dominant males and females take care of the children. The dominant females are physically bigger than all the others.”
I had noticed that Irina stood a good head taller than her “husband.”
“And the non-dominants can’t have children?”
“No,” she confirmed, “but it is not a problem. They take care of the dominant couple’s children as though they were their own. Or, rather, they consider them as actually being their own children. Since I’m the youngest in my nest, it’s as if I had six parents. There weren’t too many taking care of me,” she added with a smile.
Female and male workers were conceived to take care of the queen and her offspring. That seemed horrible to me. “The non-dominants are slaves, then? Their only purpose is to assure the well-being of the dominants?”
“Oh no!” Jane broke in. “Well, it was true, millions of years ago. Since then the Dohani have evolved and acquired intelligence. All members of the Dohani race are intelligent and have free will. The dominants take care of children as much as the non-dominants do. The Dohani have very few children, to avoid overpopulation.”
“But the non-dominants are asexual and don’t have a rich life like the dominants,” I protested.
“No way! The non-dominants form couples like the dominants.”
Something was bothering me. “Wait just a second... The non-dominants form couples within their nests?” I asked. “Between brothers and sisters?” I was horrified.
“Of course not! Nests are not immutable. The non-dominants leave their nests when they find someone they like in another nest. Only the dominant couple remains forever in the same nest. And the dominant couple doesn’t dominate by giving orders. Everyone does his job in the nest, of course. The dominant couple is just the backbone of the nest; they give it stability.”
I closed my eyes, trying to assimilate all that. “So,” I said, “your adoptive brothers and sisters are not really brothers and sisters, then?”
“Exactly,” Jane confirmed. “Kalista is actually the biological daughter of my adoptive parents; she’s too young to have found a male. She’s a dominant female, and when she finds her partner, they will establish their own nest.”
This was complicated. “And you, Jane, where do you fit into this scheme of things?”
She embraced me. “I’m a dominant female. I can have babies!” She seemed delighted at the prospect. She was even impatient, if I could interpret her expression correctly.
“Eliza thinks you’re not compatible with humans; your genetic code is too different.”
Jane smiled. “I do have extra genes, but that’s no problem. From that point of view, I’m as human as you are.”
I should have expected that. The situation was getting more and more complicated.
“However,” she continued, “I am a special case. There are no others like me. I’ve always felt a little lonely. But I found you! The Dohani were all very surprised. Very pleasantly surprised. They were afraid I would need a long time to find a partner.”
She turned to her father and appeared to think for a minute. “Okay,” she said. “They’ve told me I can tell you everything. Hang on.” And Jane began to explain to me the reason for her existence.