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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

Table of Contents
Chapter 15: Jane and the Caterpillars
The Dohani War: synopsis

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.

I’ve been so wrapped up in my warm cocoon
But something’s happening, things are changing soon
I’m pushing the edge, I’m feeling it crack
And once I get out, there’s no turning back.
— Hilary Duff, Metamorphosis

“Thousands of years ago, the Dohani met another race. Let’s call them the Caterpillars, because that is what they look like. They were a hive society, like most species evolved enough to achieve space travel. Unlike the Dohani, they had retained a very strict hierarchy: queens and thousands of workers. The workers were not really intelligent; they only carried out the queens’ orders.”

Jane took my hand and examined it as she continued to tell her story. “There was a problem: the Caterpillars were a warlike race. They had decided to conquer the universe. Their survival instinct was to multiply and eliminate all other races. The Dohani call that a ‘wild hive’.”

She paused. “It was impossible to engage in a dialogue with the Caterpilllars. They had only one idea: to exterminate all competition. Fortunately they had conquered only a few planets when the Dohani met them. And they had not yet annihilated any other civilizations. That would have been terrible; intelligent life is very rare in the galaxy.”

Jane closed her eyes and leaned her head briefly on my shoulder. “A war broke out. The Caterpillars immediately attacked all the Dohani vessels they saw. But their technology was far behind ours, and the Dohani had no trouble resisting. The Caterpillars were like a swarm of mosquitoes: annoying but not dangerous, and easy to swat.”

Thank goodness humans are not so far behind in technology, I thought.

“The Dohani could have easily crushed the Caterpillars,” Jane continued. “A few bombs and it would have been all over for them on their planets. But intelligent life is precious, and the Dohani were aghast at the idea of destroying the Caterpillars. Even if they were aggressive, they were intelligent and unique... The Dohani thought that in time the Caterpillars would evolve and change their ways.

“However, our scientists concluded it would not happen. Now that the Caterpillars were at war with the Dohani, evolutionary pressure would do the opposite and make them even more aggressive.”

Jane smiled. “That’s when a Dohani scientist, whose name means ‘One who grows flowers of all colors’, because he loved gardening, had an idea. If evolution would not take the Caterpillars down the right path, it would have to be forced to do so.

“The Dohani are experts in genetic engineering. That’s how they created our implants. They changed themselves to be stronger, healthier and longer-lived. They decided to study the Caterpillars’ genetic code and modify it.”

“Modify their enemy’s DNA?” I asked, astounded.

“Yes,” Jane said. “It’s not really DNA, but it is an equivalent. They spent a century working on it. To reduce the queens’ importance, they made the workers more autonomous. When the Caterpillars’ general intelligence was increased, they would realize they had no chance of winning the war. Once the modifications were ready, the Dohani created a virus that would change the Caterpillars’ genetic code. And they sprayed the Caterpillars’ planets with the virus.”

“And it worked?” I asked. “The Caterpillars’ genetic code was really changed?”

“Beyond our wildest dreams!” Jane exclaimed. “The Caterpillars began to be born with red eyes, like the Dohanis’, and they no longer obeyed their queens’ orders. The queens reconsidered when they saw what was happening. They recalled their troops.

“In one generation, the Caterpillars changed. The queens lost all desire to fight; they were too busy organizing their new society with all those intelligent Caterpillars. The new ones were forever asking questions, and their queens had a hard time keeping up. The Caterpillar workers asked, “Why this? Why that? Why, Mama?!”

Jane smiled and shook her head. “The bonds between the Caterpillars grew. A queen no longer looked upon her workers as slaves, now that they could communicate. She saw them as her children. It was out of the question anymore to send them to die in combat. For the first time, they agreed to parley and sued for peace. The Dohani wanted nothing else.

“Since then,” Jane said and smiled, “the Caterpillars have worshipped the Dohani and consider them as some kind of divine beings. There are plenty of Caterpillars on the Dohani worlds. They’re the ones I was thinking of a while ago when I told you that you’d soon see members of another intelligent race.”

Jane paused and gathered her thoughts. “One day, the Dohani met the humans. It was impossible to communicate with them. The signals they sent by radio waves were primitive and yet incomprehensible. Humans had no implants. The Dohani never imagined that you used sound to communicate.

“So they decided to leave the humans alone while keeping an eye on them. The humans looked like a peaceable race, although their technological level was a little worrisome. But, ten Earth years ago, humans suddenly attacked us. I’ve already talked to you about it.”

I nodded. Actually she meant the pirates, but the Dohani did not see things that way.

“The Dohani,” Jane continued, “concluded that they were up against a new wild hive. One that was more advanced than the Caterpillars, and cleverer, too. The humans had pretended to be peaceable while they were studying us, and then they attacked.

“That raised the same problem as the Caterpillars had. Like them, the humans were an intelligent race; we had to prevent them from doing harm but without destroying them. The Dohani went to war and began skirmishing, to keep the humans busy.”

I sat up abruptly. “To keep humans busy?!” I exclaimed. “Wait... you mean this war is only a way for the Dohani to force us to concentrate all our efforts on the front lines? The Dohani could win easily?”

“Exactly. The Dohani are much more advanced than you. And ten times more numerous.”

My mouth hung agape. They outnumbered us ten to one?

“But our goal,” Jane continued, “was not to win the war, just to gain time while Dohani scientists worked on a big project: to make the human race less aggressive by modifying its queens, as well as their workers, as a side effect.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I said. “We don’t have queens. That will never work.”

Jane sighed. “We know. I’ve sent on all the information I collected while I was with humans. There is no doubt that you do not fit the ‘hive’ model, which is the most widespread in the galaxy. And that means the project is doomed to fail.”

“But you,” I asked, “how did they transform you after they kidnapped you?”

“They did not kidnap me. I was born in a growth tank. The object was to produce an improved model of human being, complete with an implant for communication. I’m a prototype.

“The Dohani had hopes for me, mainly that I would be able to infiltrate and inoculate the human queens with the gene-altering virus, once it was ready. With your technological development, it would have been difficult to meet the problem head-on and spray your planets with the virus. You would have realized it was a biological warfare attack, and you would have taken countermeasures.”

Something struck me in what she had just said. “You were born in a growth tank... You mean the Dohani had begun their experiments before the war started?”

“No, why?” she answered. “There was no reason to study humans before the war.”

I shook my head firmly. “Jane, they’ve lied to you. They must have started earlier. You’re about sixteen years old, and the war has been going on for only ten years.”

“Oh, yes,” she said, smiling. “But that’s because of accelerated growth. I grow up faster than humans. I’m not sixteen.”

Accelerated growth? And that meant she was really no older than ten? Age ten was extremely young to fight as she did and to fall in love. She was very precocious.

She dropped the bomb: “I’m five years old.”

What?! No, Jane, you’re joking. You can’t be five. You’d still be a baby. You could hardly talk. This doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yes, I’m really five. Five years and a few months. I grow on average three times faster than humans. And that makes my apparent age sixteen at present. But the growth rate decreases, and at the moment it’s only twice as fast as normal growth — for a human.”

I felt dizzy. She was five years old?

“With the implant,” she continued, “a Dohani learns about life much more rapidly than a human. However, the Dohani almost never resort to accelerated growth for their children; they prefer to take the time to see them grow up and have their own experiences... Even so, Dohani children are intellectually much more precocious than human children. For example, they can communicate at birth, because they’ve begun to learn even before they’re hatched.”

Jane smiled. “Besides, they’re very eager to come out of the egg and see the world. Taking care of eggs is very tiring; they’re very eager for attention and mental stroking. They need to be talked to all the time. That’s why a whole nest is needed to take care of them.”

This was crazy. “But... five years? Biologically you’re only an infant, for me. Jane, an infant does not fall in love at age five!”

Jane stood up and put her hands on her hips. She was exasperated. “Do I look like I’m five years old?” she asked.

I had to admit that she did not look at all like a small child.

“I’m sixteen in mind and body, Dexter,” she continued, “and that’s how you have to see me. It does no good to think I’m five years old. A year from now I’ll be eighteen and my growth stage will be over.”

Eighteen in one year? She would be an adult in scarcely one year? I still felt dizzy. Suddenly, I was chilled by an awful thought. “That means that in fifteen years, when you’re twenty, your apparent age will be sixty!”

“No, no, come on! Accelerated growth stops at adulthood. It’s growth that’s accelerated, not aging.”

I heaved a sigh of relief.

* * *

“What will the Dohani do,” I asked, “now that the genetic alteration project has failed?”

Jane glanced at her parents. “There are several possibilities,” she answered. “Most of us — myself included — think it’s best to wait and think about it.”

She paused. “Another idea is to invade you with all our ships and force you to lay down your arms. But that won’t change the fact that humans are dangerous; it will end the war, but that’s all.

“Besides, what I’ve managed to learn about human history shows that you’re capable of fighting to the death, even if you know you have no chance. And you can wage clandestine war, even after being conquered.”

Jane’s face became somber. “The last possibility is... to exterminate you.”

I paled.

“That is not being considered seriously at the moment,” she reassured me. “It’s just the only thing to do if there’s no other solution.”

“You’re crazy!” I exploded. “Exterminate the human race? Dammit, we’re not as dangerous as all that!”

“Sorry, Dexter, but you are. You are dangerous. Sooner or later you’ll come across another race, one weaker than you, and you’ll annihilate it. Leaving you alone means condemning other races. We can’t allow that. And we can’t allow the war to go on indefinitely, either; it’s cruel for both our peoples.”

This was a nightmare. If I had not captured Jane, the Dohani would not have realized that their genetic modification project would fail. And they would not be wondering if exterminating humanity would not be the best thing to do after all. I might be responsible for the eradication of my own species.

Jane tried to reassure me, but a little too late. It would have been better if she had said nothing at all to me about it.

“You mustn’t worry. The Dohani have enormous respect for intelligent life and have never had to destroy another civilization. They’re not liable to decide to do so any time soon. They may take a century or a thousand years before they decide they’ve exhausted all other possibilities.”

“And it may take just a few months, mightn’t it?”

“No,” she said, “a century at least, and probably a lot longer. Destroying an intelligent species as evolved as yours cannot be taken lightly.”

A century at least... A lot of things could happen on the human side in a century. Maybe we could find a way to fight the Dohani more effectively. We might colonize other planets, and our enemy’s numerical superiority would not be so overwhelming.

But the long-term outlook remained worrisome. Damn those stupid pirates who took it into their heads to attack the Dohani.

Proceed to Chapter 16...

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

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