Prose Header

The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

Table of Contents
Chapter 16: Adaptation

part 1

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.

Hold that smile
That’s all I need
Don’t say a thing
That’s all I need
— Caroline, All I Need

Night was falling. Jane told me a room in the house had been reserved for us. It was a kind of small salon in which a small sleeping alcove had been provided, with lots of little cushions. There were also a table and chairs... The room was tiny by Dohani standards, and I wondered if they were installing us in a closet. But for the two of us, it was quite big enough.

“My parents would like us all to sleep together,” Jane said, “and I would, too. I’ve missed them very much. That’s what we all do; it’s normal for us. But they understand it’s hard for you.”

I thought about it. “You know, Jane, you can sleep somewhere else, if you wish. It won’t bother me.”

She smiled. She was getting better and better at that. Was she practicing in secret? “Oh no, I’ll stay with you! It’s not a big deal. I’m not far from them, and they’re very happy to see me safe and sound. And to get to know you.”

We had dinner in our “apartment.” Since the Dohani had stores of human food, I was not about to starve. After dinner, Jane took me for a swim in the pool. Then we went to bed.

Jane lay in my arms. I tried to think about something other than the sword of Damocles hanging dangerously over humanity’s head. I asked the first question that came to mind: “Could you tell me how you got out of the handcuffs, at the research center?”

“Oh... okay,” she said, uncomfortably, “I’ll tell you. But I have to warn you: it may frighten you or at least seem very bizarre.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Maybe so, but as for bizarre things, I’ve seen so many since you came into my life...”

She took a breath. “I can produce acid.”

I look at her wide-eyed. “Acid?”

“Yes, I have special glands in my mouth. That’s how I was able to dissolve the lock on the handcuffs.”

Impressive. But a little disturbing, just the same.

“And I can also produce venom. It’s a neurotoxin that can put a human being to sleep.”

Jane was practically a walking arsenal. She saw the shocked look on my face.

“I’m sorry,” she said, with downcast eyes. “That’s the way I am, and I can’t help it. The Dohani gave me those advantages so I could defend myself as well as possible.”

“It doesn’t matter, Jane,” I said. “It’s just... surprising.”

I learned later that the Dohani themselves had been astonished at Jane’s aptitude for combat. Her short stature made her quicker than the Dohani, and her human genes made her very aggressive. And adding all her genetic improvements had created an explosive combination.

I decided to change the subject completely. I found another question for her: “If you Dohani all sleep together, what do you do when... uh... you’re... amorous?”

I shuddered, dreading that she might answer that they held orgies. Maybe I should have chosen a different question.

“For coupling?” she asked in her habitual matter-of-fact way. “We go to one of the small rooms off the main room. You know, there are four of them. And they have doors that can be closed.”

Oh, yes. So that’s what they were for.

“Of course, I’ve never gone there,” Jane added, “because I never had a compatible partner.”

Jane rolled over on top of me, her elbows on my chest. Her eyes were as red as burning coals, and she devoured me with her gaze. She pulled herself up, bringing her face close to mine. “But now that you mention it...” She put her lips on mine and began to kiss me.

How could I not have foreseen what she was going to do? I pushed her away.

She looked back at me, a bit pained. “I have to get to know you better,” she said. “I’m not really surprised that you refuse. What’s the matter this time?”

“Jane, you’re too young!”

“But I’m not five years old,” she replied. “I explained that. What counts is my apparent age.”

“Yes, I know, you’re sixteen. But it’s still too young. I can’t do it.”

She sighed. “Why?” she asked. “Don’t you want to? I do.” She continued to devour me eagerly with her gaze.

I gulped, with difficulty. The room felt suddenly very warm. She smiled and tried to kiss me again.

“No,” I said, “it’s wrong. Besides, I don’t want to get you pregnant.”

Jane looked at me wide-eyed. “Pregnant? Why would that happen?”

I was missing something. Did she really not know how it works? “Jane, do you know about human reproduction?”

“Yes, of course. What does that have to do with anything?”

I closed my eyes and tried to remain calm. “Don’t you see the connection between making love and getting pregnant?”

“Yes, but for that to happen, I would have to be fertile, and I’m not.”

I shook my head. “Jane, one can never be a hundred percent sure. Even if I accepted, and I don’t, and if you’re just a little off in your cycle, there’s a risk.”

Jane frowned. “What cycle is that?”

At this point I was beginning to run out of ideas. She really did come from outer space. “Uh... the monthly cycle: ovulation, bleeding... You know about that?”

Jane was looking more and more perplexed. “No, I don’t understand at all. Ovulation is controlled consciously. There’s no cycle involved in the process. That’s why I told you there was no risk. I’m fertile only if I decide to be. Doesn’t it work that way with humans?”

I understood. This was another genetic improvement. “No, not at all,” I said. “Besides, it’s a big problem for women.”

Jane leaned her head to one side. “Really? Wait... I’ll check it out...” She stared off into space for a moment. She was communicating with another Dohani.

Then she looked at me in complete astonishment. “They’ve just explained it to me. I didn’t know any of these details. This is really a complicated system. I wonder how you’ve managed to survive so long as a species.”

“We manage very well, thank you,” I sniffed. Her condescension was aggravating, although she had said everything without a hint of it.

“Okay,” she continued, “now you understand. There’s no risk. You’ll change your mind, then?” She gave me another ravishing smile.

I remained steadfast. “You’re too young, Jane. I’ve already said so.”

She grumbled and lay down beside me, looking at the round ceiling. She had given up. Whew, I had managed to get out of an embarrassing situation.

“When?” she asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “When what?”

“When will I be old enough?”

When she got an idea into her mind... At least she had refrained from jumping on me. She could have done that with no trouble at all; she was a lot stronger than I. But she had understood that things could not happen like that; she could not have what she wanted just by taking it from me.

“Well,” I answered, “eighteen is the legal age on most human worlds.”

“That long?” she asked. “That’s almost a year! I can’t wait that long!”

That made me laugh. “A year, that’s nothing. Why are you in such a hurry?”

“That’s twenty percent of my life,” she protested. “Don’t forget, I’m five years old. That’s a very, very long time for me.”

“Oh, so you’re five now? I thought you were sixteen.”

Gotcha. Jane groaned, seeing her argument fall apart. “Who cares about the legal age?” she continued. “You’re not among humans anymore. You’re in no danger of going to jail.” She was not ready to accept defeat so easily.

“It’s a matter of principle,” I said. “Sixteen is too young. Not to mention that I don’t think you’ll ever make me forget you’re much younger. You’ll have to get used to being patient.”

Jane sighed. She seemed to be thinking. I did not like that. “Actually, accelerated growth is faster in me than in the Dohani. I must already be close to eighteen...”

Yeah, right. “Jane, you’re trying to lie to me, but the Dohani aren’t good at that, and it won’t work.”

Jane grumbled. She really looked frustrated.

“Besides,” I added, “you’re acting just like a willful child. And I can’t say you’re scoring any points.”

She gave up the battle that evening, but I had the feeling I was far from winning the war.

* * *

The next day I woke up with Jane’s face next to mine. “You sleep for a long time,” she said.

“I can’t help it. But you don’t have to wait for me. You can get up.”

“I like watching you sleep too much to do that.”

I smiled at her. “What’s on the schedule for today?”

“We’re going to see someone in the city nearby. It’s a surprise. Humans like surprises, from what I’ve read.”

* * *

The YR-341 had disappeared. Jane told me that a cruiser would tow it to Station S-804. When I heard the name of the space station, I had a twinge of nostalgia. Would I ever see Eliza, Charts, and the members of my commando squad again?

We were walking toward three white antigrav vehicles parked near the house.

“We call them sliders,” Jane said, “because they slide on their antigravity fields, like skating on ice.”

One of the vehicles was much smaller than the others. I realized it had been designed for humans.

“This one is mine,” Jane said. “It’s very fast. I love it.” She got into the vehicle.

I hesitated a second before entering the compartment. “Very fast?” I asked, worriedly.

She looked at me. “Yes, it easily does five hundred kilometers an hour.”

Oh boy. I shrank back. Now I understood how she had been able to navigate through traffic on Aubria-3.

She frowned. “Don’t you want to come?”

“Jane, you drive too fast for me. When you landed the spaceship, I though we were going to crash—”

She cut in: “But there was no danger. You know that.”

“And now you’re telling me to get into a vehicle that goes... or slides... five hundred kilometers an hour? I can’t do that.”

She tried to reassure me. “There’s no risk. There’s an anti-collision detector, backup antigravs, inertial shock aborbers—”

“It’s not the safety I’m worried about,” I interrupted, “it’s the speed. It’s too fast.”

She closed her eyes. “You humans, you can be so aggravating sometimes!”

“May I remind you that I’m the one you kidnapped? You should have taken Charts. I’m sure he’d love the way you drive.”

She made a face with a disgusted look. “What a horror. He fights well, but he’s really not my type. You should ride with my younger sister, Kalista. Then you’d see what it’s really like to be scared.”

Okay, I thought, note to self: never let Jane’s little sister drive.

“Very well,” said Jane, “you take the controls, then.”

“In this thing? But I don’t know how to operate it! Besides, I don’t have a Dohani license. That wouldn’t be smart.”

She frowned. “What’s a license?”

“An official document that says a person has the right to drive certain types of vehicles.”

Her red eyes widened. “An official document? To say you have the right to drive? But why wouldn’t you have that right?”

“Because I wouldn’t know how. A person who doesn’t know how to drive a car, for example, doesn’t have the right to do so. If someone like that did, it might cause accidents.”

The more I explained, the less she seemed to understand. “But why would that cause accidents?” she asked.

“Because the person doesn’t know how to drive!”

“But why doesn’t he?”

“Because he hasn’t learned how to, dammit. Are you just pretending to listen to me?”

“But why would anyone need to learn?” she persisted.

I began to lose patience. She had the knack of finding incomprehensible what I considered obvious. “To know how! You have to learn something in order to know it, don’t you?”

“Of course not. You just have to download it into your implant.”

I closed my eyes. “May I remind you that we humans don’t have implants?”

“But still, you don’t need to learn everything, do you? You surely have a means of downloading knowledge directly to your brain?”

I sighed. “No, we have nothing like that. And I didn’t know the Dohani could do it. Instant learning? It must be practical.”

But Jane looked shocked. “You have to learn everything... by reading?”

I shrugged. “Children learn from a teacher who explains everything to them. As adults we learn most often by reading documents on our electronic notepads.”

“That must be very slow.”

She got out of the vehicle and came and embraced me. What had come over her? “That must have been very hard for you, Dexter. All that time wasted in learning everything...” She hugged me tightly.

I was disconcerted. “Er... no, it’s normal. That’s how we humans do it.”

She looked up at me. “Don’t try to lie. I see how much you must have suffered.”

This was becoming downright surrealistic. “No, Jane, everybody learns that way. I’m not complaining. There’s no need to console me.”

But she continued to hold me. I stopped arguing; we were on completely different wavelengths.

“Okay, then,” I said at last. “What shall we do about the slider?”

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

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

Proceed to Challenge 521...

Table of Contents

Home Page