The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 16: Adaptation
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.
Jane promised me she would not go faster than a hundred kilometers an hour, and she grumbled that I could sometimes really be a pain. But she kept her promise.
The slider floated at about fifty meters’ altitude. I looked at the countryside. It was magnificent. The Dohani took good care of their planet. There were no humans, but aside from that I would not have minded living here. The trip was very nice, and the slider definitely deserved its name: there were no bumps or even the slightest vibration. And the motor was quiet.
Jane looked bored. “Dexter, please wake me up if I go to sleep.”
I smiled. I wondered if she was acquiring a sense of humor.
* * *
The city was a collection of domes of different sizes. The roads were unsurfaced. Or, rather, there were no roads; all the sliders flew. There were only expanses of grass as well as flower- and kitchen gardens. It was a fairytale city inhabited by giants.
“We’re here,” Jane said. She stopped the glider in front of a big purple dome. I had not the slightest idea what it might be used for. It had an inscription over the entryway, but a lot of good that did me.
I got out. Around us, some Dohanis had stopped to look at us. Several of them approached Jane and bent down to touch foreheads with her.
“You have friends everywhere,” I said.
“They aren’t friends, just passers-by.”
I closed my eyes. What more was I missing? “You mean that people who don’t know you greet you as if they were friends?”
“Of course they know me. Why wouldn’t they?”
I gritted my teeth. Then: “They’re passers-by, and they know you? But you’d never seen them before?”
“Yes, some of them are in this city for the first time.”
“Aha, I forgot. You’re famous.”
“Oh, they just wanted to comfort me for the bad experiences I had among humans. And to congratulate me for having found you. They’re very happy for me, especially because you’re a very interesting person.
“And they saw that you took care of me and came to my rescue when the gas was going to be released. And they find it strange that you don’t want to take off your clothes in front of me.”
“What?! You told them all that?” I was staggered. “Wait... you said some of them had just come to town. When did you tell them?”
“They’ve known everything since I came back to this planet. As soon as we landed, I transmitted all my experiences through my implant, so they could analyze them. And even if the experiences didn’t have any strategic or scientific interest, they’re very unusual, and I wanted to share them.”
It was just one thing after another. All the Dohani on this world knew our personal secrets. Only later did I learn that Jane’s information had been spread throughout the entire Dohani empire.
* * *
We entered the purple dome. We were in what was evidently a waiting room with Dohanis sitting in large chairs and waiting their turn. I did not know what we were doing here; it was a surprise.
I tried to pay no attention to the Dohanis who approached Jane. One who came toward us was wearing a purple belt, the same color as the dome, and his skin was beige. I supposed he worked here. “Hello, Mister Zimski,” the Dohani said.
I was stupefied. He has spoken to me!
“But... how...” I babbled.
“We’ve studied the portable screen that Jane brought back with her,” he explained. “It was child’s play to reprogram our implants to analyze your sounds, which registered on our biological sonar.”
I noticed that he had a small casing on one of his shoulders. His voice was coming from it.
“Sound waves are a fascinating means of communication,” he continued. “Most evolved species use what you would call telepathy, although it is based on radio waves. It is much more efficient than sound waves, which have a very short range and feeble bandwidth.”
I could not believe it. A Dohani who spoke! After fifteen years of silence, it seemed very simple for them once they understood how humans communicated.
“We are going to reprogram the implant of Little White Kitten.”
“Please,” she interrupted, “he thinks the name is ridiculous.”
Oops. Had Jane understood I was making fun of her, that day?
“Really?” the Dohani replied. “And yet it’s a very appropriate translation.”
“It isn’t really important,” I said, embarrassed. “It is her real name, and it doesn’t bother me.” That was not quite true. If I heard everybody calling Jane “Little White Kitten,” I would have a hard time keeping a straight face.
“We’ll reprogram Jane’s implant,” he said, “so she can hear you without the vocal recognition circuit.” He turned to Jane and took her hand.
“I’ll be right back,” Jane told me, and she followed the Dohani.
I went and sat down in the waiting room between two Dohanis. I tried to forget where I was. I was alone amid dozens of space aliens who had been my enemies until recently. To tell the truth, I was not sure they considered me a friend. Perhaps they thought — rightly — that I was inoffensive.
I waited. The Dohanis did not concern themselves with me. Maybe they were watching me, but since they had four eyes, I could not be sure.
The strangest thing was the silence. The Dohanis were communicating with each other through their neural implants. They had no need to speak, even if some of them were equipped to do so. The waiting room was completely silent aside from the sounds of footsteps going and coming.
A young Dohani appeared in the waiting room; he was accompanied by a monstrous animal. It was a nightmare creature, a kind of giant worm-like insect three meters long.
Like a worm, its body was composed of a series of ring-like sections, each with a pair of short feet, about twenty of them in all. Its enormous spherical head had six red eyes that looked like billiard balls; and several pairs of antennae, as well as mandibles. On its back were armored scales. On its tail were two pairs of supplementary antennae.
I froze in my chair, hoping I would not attract the creature’s attention. But it saw me as soon as it came into the room and immediately came over to me.
Did it think I was food? I was terrified. By force of habit I reached for my standard-issue pistol but, alas, I was unarmed.
The beast stopped a meter away from me. It leaned its head to one side, observing me. I realized it was an intelligent being. The young Dohani, standing beside the creature, put a hand on one of the scales on its back. The monster looked at him and then moved away from me. They continued on their way toward the interior of the building.
My heart was pounding. I had never been so scared in my life. What was that thing? It seemed to be a friend of the young Dohani.
And then I understood. It was one of those Caterpillars that Jane had told me about. The intelligent race that the Dohani had transformed into a civilized one.
I calmed down. There really was no reason to be alarmed. The Caterpillar was seeing a human being for the first time, and I might be the first human to see one of those creatures.
I thought about Jane. She was taking a long time. Child’s play to reprogram the implant? My years in the Army had taught me how to wait patiently, but when I glanced at my electronic notepad, I was astounded to see I had been waiting for three hours. I began to worry. This was not normal. I was sure something had happened to her implant.
Suddenly I stood up and looked around for a Dohani with a purple belt. When I found one, I hurried over to him: “Please, can you tell me where Jane is?”
I knew he would not be able to understand me, but I hoped he would guess that one of the only two humans on the planet could only be asking about the other rather than for directions to the men’s room.
The Dohani inclined his head toward me and then gestured to me to follow him toward a doorway. We went into a corridor and then into another room. Jane was sitting on a table and the beige Dohani, who must have been her doctor, was opposite her. They both turned toward me. The Dohani who had been my guide made a gesture with his hand and left.
Jane jumped down from the table and came to me. She did not say anything.
“Is everything okay, Jane?” I asked worriedly. I saw she did not have her portable screen and could not answer. She nodded her head to indicate she was all right. Apparently she could understand me.
“Does it work?” I asked. “Can you hear me without the computer?”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“I suppose you only need your vocal synthesizer module...”
She raised her hand to tell me to hold still, and then she took both my hands. She looked at me intensely, concentrating. She opened her mouth. “Hello... Dexter.”
I jumped. She had truly spoken. With her mouth.
“Jane... you can speak?!”
She paused. “Yes...” she said, slowly. “But it’s... a little... difficult. I am not yet... used to it.” Her voice was as soft and warm as velvet.
The Dohani intervened. “Mister Zimski, she wanted to practice before going back to you. She has always had the organs of the human voice but never used them. When we learned how humans communicated, we tried to discover how to activate the system.
“We have used the implant to put new neural connections in place. But now that she can speak, she will need to practice, to reinforce them. For the moment, the connections are new and still imprecise. But the experiment is going very well.”
“Do you... like... my voice?” she asked.
“I love it!” I answered and hugged her.
She was delighted. I had not often taken an initiative to show her affection.
We took our leave of the Dohani doctor.
“And now...” Jane said as we headed for the slider, “all Dohani... will be able to understand... and speak to humans.”
“Yes, they will... all download... the new subprogram... for the implant. They will need only... a voice synthesizer module.”
If only that could make them understand humans and see that exterminating us was not the only solution.
“I met a Caterpillar,” I said. “I wasn’t expecting it. It was terrifying.”
Jane turned to me. “Oh, I’m sorry. Wait. I’ll fix that.” She closed her eyes. “The Caterpillars don’t have names, just identification numbers... Okay, I’ve found it: number 12-409. It sends its apologies. It finds you very interesting and would like to see you again.”
I turned pale. “Well, maybe later. Mightn’t I make it mad? Humanity is already at war; I don’t want to be responsible for starting another, with another race of space aliens.”
Jane smiled. “No danger. The Caterpillars are peaceable. I explained, and it said it was glad to meet you. Apparently it likes you.”
I was popular among space aliens. Decidedly so.
The return trip was more pleasant than the first. Jane practiced talking and did not stop. I loved her voice. Against all expectations we could now communicate like two normal human beings, with nothing artificial between us.
* * *