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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

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Chapter 16: Adaptation

part 3

When we got back, Jane’s family already knew how to “talk.” Having Dohanis talking all around me was both disconcerting and comforting. I felt less lonely.

Jane’s parents peppered me with questions. I got the impression they wanted to make sure I was someone suitable enough for their daughter. As a human being, I doubted I would ever be able to meet their expectations.

In the following days, Jane took me on a tour of the planet in her slider. We went everywhere. She took me swimming in an ocean, playing in the snow on a mountain, admiring wild nature. Sometimes we camped, made a bonfire, and slept under the stars. She was well-behaved; she seemed to have completely given up her plans to seduce me.

One morning she woke up later than I. That was unusual. She had cramps and aches. When I asked her if she was okay, she assured me it was normal and that she was in good health. But I was worried, and I finally went to ask her parents about it.

“She is all right, Dexter,” Irina told me. “In her situation it is normal for her to have pain, and it is going to get worse. But she is ready to bear it.”

This rather cryptic response left me perplexed.

* * *

Jane told me about the prison planet. I had asked her what the Dohani did with human prisoners of war.

“They are all on one planet in the middle of our empire. It is a pretty world and was once inhabited by the Dohani. But they moved out to make room for humans. I have to admit the gravity was a little high for the Dohani. It was the best choice among many possible ones.”

“A prison planet,” I said. “I suppose they’re kept in camps?”

“No, they’re free.”

“Free?” I said, surprised. “They can go anywhere on the planet?”

“Obviously. They would be very bored if they were locked up. The only thing they can’t do is take a spaceship. We’ve given them supplies: sliders, tools, and food. They live in the former Dohani cities. That way, they have electrical power and running water. Some of them farm the land, which means we don’t have to do it for them. They have all the agricultural supplies they need.”

“They even have sliders? This prison must be a paradise! How many are there?”

“About two hundred million. All the human prisoners captured since the beginning of the war.”

This was fascinating. The Dohani had a human colony in the middle of their empire.

“Don’t they try to escape,” I asked, “or attack the Dohanis who bring them food and that sort of thing?”

“Some of them form groups and try to rebel, but that happens very rarely. Anyway, they’re stuck on that planet. Most seem to have accepted their fate, and they have a lot of children.”

“They have children?! When they’re prisoners of war?”

“I suppose they don’t feel very much like prisoners,” Jane replied.

Indeed. Being on a world with a pleasant climate, with all they needed to live and the certainty they could not escape... That no doubt explained why the prisoners had decided to get on with their lives. Two hundred million people... They must have a culture and a political system.

“And if the Dohani decide to eliminate humans, what will they do with the prisoners? Will they eliminate them, too?”

“No, the plan is — if things have to go that far, which I repeat is very unlikely — to continue to study the humans on the prison planet and try to reach a solution that would make them less dangerous. Once the human empire is destroyed, there will no longer be a threat. In any case, the human race won’t disappear completely.”

Her reassurance struck me as cold comfort.

* * *

I had been the Dohanis’ “guest” for three weeks. I was not a prisoner; I could have left whenever I wanted. But even without Jane I would have stayed, to try to find a way to prevent the Dohani from exterminating us.

Jane told me that most of the Dohanis on the planet now knew how to speak. And some of them wanted to come and pay us a visit: children. They were fascinated by the human, this strange and dangerous creature, and they wanted to see him in real life.

“Why not?” I said. “But they’ll be disappointed. I have nothing special to show them.”

“I disagree!” Jane protested. “You are extraordinary!”

I rolled my eyes in resignation. “Okay. How do we go about it?”

She took my hand. “Let’s go outdoors. I’ve sent them a message to tell them you agree to meet them. They’re on the way. They’re all excited!”

I told myself the Dohani really trusted me if they put me in contact with their children.

We sat down on the grass. Each child arrived in a slider and was accompanied by one or two of the family’s adults. There were children of all sizes, including babies. Including eggs.

“Uh, Jane? Why did they bring eggs? I’m missing something.”

She smiled. “In their eggs they are already in contact with the world through their neural implant. I told you about that.”

Now I remembered. When she had mentioned it, I had something else on my mind and had not absorbed the information.

“But how do they get the implant in place?” I asked. “Do they open the egg and perform an operation?”

She looked at me, her head cocked to one side. “Sometimes you have some really bizarre ideas. The implant is part of their biology. It grows in us, with us. The implant’s circuits are part of our genetic code.”

Yes, that would explain Jane’s extra genes.

The children surrounded me. They sat on the ground, the smallest ones on the adults’ laps. When the Dohani sat down, they wrapped their tail around themselves.

Some of the children were taller than I. Jane was sitting among them, and other adults sat a little farther away. The questions flew:

“Mister Zimski, are you a great warrior? How many vessels do you command?”

“Mister Zimski, are you the chief of the human armies?”

“Mister Zimski, did you really overcome and capture Little White Kitten? You must be very strong!”

I raised my arms. “Not all at once, children. If you want to ask a question, raise your hand. I don’t have an implant. I can’t follow ten conversations at once.”

The all started talking at the same time. “No implant? How do you live? Did you have an accident when you were a baby? Do humans never have implants?” They stopped suddenly and looked at Jane.

“I’ve called them to order,” she said. “They have to remain calm for at least one minute.”

I nodded. “Well, now, let’s see. I am not a great warrior. I am just a lieutenant in the Federation Army. I was the leader of a commando squad aboard the cruiser Phoebus.”

One of the children raised a hand. “Mister Zimski, what is a commando squad?”

“Well... it goes to an enemy base in secret and sabotages the generator while the enemy is asleep. Then it’s easy to capture the base. That’s how I captured Jane.”

“Go on,” said Jane, “that’s very good. They’re fascinated.”

“I do not command any spaceships,” I continued. “You have to be very intelligent to command a warship and have taken part in many battles, and have experience.”

They asked me how I had captured Jane.

“We had thrown a kind of bomb that makes Dohanis unconscious. I hope for your sakes you never experience that; it’s very unpleasant. But Jane is not affected by it, and she attacked us.”

I told them how she had almost mopped the floor with us, one girl against eight men. And so forth.

They could not get enough of stories of battles, heroes and courage. They asked to come back the next day and the days following. Every day I spent an hour telling them stories I drew from my reading and history courses. It was fun.

Sometimes we went to one of the children’s houses. The parents thanked me and said it was a very enriching experience for the young. Maybe, in the end, they might change their mind about humans.

Proceed to Chapter 17...

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

Proceed to Challenge 522...

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