The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 18: Understanding
Eliza was satisfied. The day’s work had been tiring, but the results were worth the effort. She stood in the infirmary doorway and smiled as she inspected the facility.
Everything had been put in place, vacuumed, cleaned, scrubbed and disinfected. The equipment had been checked, the batteries recharged, and defective parts replaced. All the tanks of antiseptics and medications had been filled. The infirmary was empty for once, and Eliza had taken the opportunity to do a lot of housekeeping.
Then an alarm sounded. “Warning! A Dohani vessel is approaching. All hands to battle stations. This is not a drill. I repeat...”
Eliza’s mood darkened. I don’t believe it, she said to herself, gritting her teeth. All she had to do was clean the infirmary and sure enough, those damned aliens would show up right away. There would be wounded, blood, chaos, and she would have to do everything over again. Dammit, couldn’t they have waited till tomorrow?
Her communicator chimed. “Doctor Doyle, command center here. Could you come? The Dohani want... to talk to you.”
Eliza was so furious that the sheer oddness of the request did not register with her. “They want to talk to me?” she yelled. “How convenient. I want to give them a piece of my mind!”
She bulled her way like a tank toward the command center, bumping aside anything and anyone who did not have the presence of mind to get out of her way in time.
In the command center, she barked at one of the men: “Where can I talk to them?”
The man, suitably impressed, pointed to a microphone.
Eliza started yelling, “Listen to me, you heathen aliens, I’m fed up with your invasions. You invade, you leave, then you invade again. That’s enough already. I’ve spent all day cleaning my [censored] infirmary, and now you are going to do me the favor of taking your [censored] spaceships and go [censored] home!”
Utter silence reigned in the command center. Nobody dared move.
Finally a voice came over the radio: “Hi, Eliza. This is Dexter.”
Eliza’s eyes rounded in amazement. “Dexter? But... what are you doing there?”
“We come in peace. But seeing the mood you’re in, maybe we should come back later...”
Colonel Thomson, the station commander, took the microphone. “What does this mean, Lieutenant Zimski?” he asked, obviously unnerved. “What do you want?”
“The Dohani have entrusted me with the mission to parley with you. But to tell the truth, there’s nothing to negotiate. I’m only their emissary.”
“Just a minute, Zimski,” the colonel broke in, “you’re still in the Army. You’re going to leave the Dohani immediately and report to me. That’s an order.”
There was a sllence, and then a new voice spoke. “I am the chief of this battleship,” said a synthetic Dohani voice. “Mister Zimski is now and henceforth a Dohani citizen. As the partner of Little White Cat, he benefits from the protection of my people. We have more important things to discuss than obeying your orders.”
“Zimski!” yelled Thomson. “You’ve decided to betray your own species? If you have, you’ll be considered a deserter. I’ll remind you that in wartime it’s a very serious act and subject to the death penalty. And what’s this about a cat?”
“Mister Thomson,” the Dohani continued, “you are making death threats against a Dohani citizen. Allow me to inform you that this vessel can vaporize your station in less than thirty seconds. You can do nothing to stop us. Cease wasting time and listen to what Dexter has to tell you.”
The colonel was fuming, but he could do nothing. The Dohani battleship was gigantic, and resistance was futile.
“I’m listening, Zimski,” he said.
“Thank you, Colonel. The Dohani want peace with humans. They will give back the frontier planets they occupy as well as the human bases and spaceships they have captured. They also have a large number of prisoners of war and will return them to human space. In exchange, they require the return of Dohani prisoners as well as the restitution of Dohani bases and planets presently occupied by human armed forces.”
“Is that all?” the colonel asked.
“No, there is something else. The war was caused by a misunderstanding. Ten years ago, human pirates attacked and destroyed two Dohani space stations and a merchant ship. The pirates massacred all the Dohanis, and that’s what started the war. The Dohani thought the human race had deliberately attacked them. The could not imagine it might be the deed of a few independent pirates in search of loot. The Dohani demand that the pirates be handed over to them.”
“A misunderstanding?” Eliza asked. “Because pirates attacked the Dohani?”
“Yes, Eliza,” Jane answered.
“Jane, is that you? You’re not using your voice synthesizer anymore?”
“Yes, it’s me. I’ll tell you about it later.”
“We’re going to broadcast a message with all the details,” I continued, “to all the frontier worlds and give this information to as many people as possible.”
“Zimski,” the colonel interrupted, “those pirates will be extremely hard to find. That was ten years ago. They’re probably either dead or scattered throughout the Federation.”
“I know, Colonel. Even so, the Dohani are ready to do all it takes to find them.”
* * *
I was relieved. Everything was going well, and there was no fighting. The frontier was flooded with Dohani ships broadcasting the peace offer. And the message also contained videos of the pirate attacks. All we had to do was wait for the Federation government to reply.
Jane invited Eliza aboard the battleship. Eliza accepted, and when she emerged from her shuttlecraft, Jane hugged her tightly, to Eliza’s great surprise. The last time Eliza had seen her, Jane had been in chains and about to embark for Aubria-3.
Eliza turned to me. “How are you, Dexter?” she asked.
“Couldn’t be better. And with a little luck, this war will soon be ancient history.”
Jane came over to me and put her head on my shoulder.
“Would you like a tour of the ship?” I asked Eliza.
“Sure!” she answered enthusiastically. “But isn’t it a military secret or something like that?”
Jane smiled. “The Dohani are not given to secrecy,” she said. “With our neural implants we’re always in contact with one another. It’s almost impossible to hide anything.”
We took Eliza to the bridge. She met the chief, a green-skinned Dohani.
“Hello, Madame Eliza,” said the ship’s captain. “My name is He Who Thinks Thrice. Dexter calls me Ralph.”
“Hello... Mister Ralph. Should I address you as captain, commander, admiral...?”
“There are no ranks in the Dohani military,” Jane explained. “The most competent person automatically takes the position. If someone more experienced appeared, the current chief would immediately give up the position. Everyone always occupies the position for which he’s best suited.”
“Fascinating,” Eliza said. “Humans could never get anything done that way. But it’s true? The Dohani can speak?”
“Only for the last two months,” Jane said. “Until then we didn’t know anything about the way humans communicated.”
“Dexter, how come you’re a Dohani citizen? Did they give you citizenship to make your diplomatic mission easier?”
I winced. “No, I’m... Jane’s partner. The way the Dohani look at it, it’s as if we were married. They don’t have wedding ceremonies. They choose a partner for life, and that’s that. In short, Jane chose me, and that automatically made me a Dohani citizen.”
Ralph intervened. “As a human, Dexter is in the best position to be our contact with other humans. And we trust him because he is the partner of Little White Kitten.”
When Eliza heard this name, she asked us about it.
“I’m afraid it is my name,” Jane said. “Unfortunately, Dexter thinks it’s funny. The Dohani have descriptive names, and sometimes the translation into human language is bizarre. I prefer to be called ‘Jane’.”
We visited other parts of the battleship. During our visit we told Eliza what we had been doing the past few months, that all the Dohani could now communicate with humans, and that humans had been threatened with extermination without knowing it.
“Have they definitely decided to give up on that idea?” Eliza asked.
“Yes,” Jane answered, “now that we know that humans can manage their aggression problems themselves, there’s no reason to eradicate them. That means humans can reject peace. If they do, the Dohani will attack until humans are vanquished, but they won’t exterminate them.”
After the tour of the ship, we went to the cabin I shared with Jane. The Dohani had equipped it with our size of furnishings. Jane made tea. The Dohani had a few things that humans could consume with no trouble, and among them was a delicious, lightly spiced tea.
We were sitting around a small table. Jane served the tea and sat down beside me. She looked pensive. Eliza and I were talking away: she told me news of the Federation, and I told her stories of my life among the Dohani. Jane paid no attention; she was lost in thought.
Suddenly Jane said, “I have an announcement to make. Since Eliza is here, I think it’s a good time for it.”
We looked at her. She took my hand and kissed it. Then she took a deep breath: “We’re going to have a baby. I’m pregnant.”
I froze. My brain disconnected.
Fortunately for me, Eliza started talking excitedly. “A baby? That’s terrific! How long have you known? You don’t look ill. Do you feel okay? No nausea? And here I thought you were genetically incompatible with humans!”
Something in me, an infinitesimal speck that still managed to think, noticed that Eliza had shifted from the formal to the familiar form of address in talking to Jane. Their voices seemed very far away.
“No nausea,” Jane said. “I’ve known about it for a few days now.”
“How did you find out? Can you take pregnancy tests on this spaceship?”
“No need,” Jane said, smiling. “My implant told me directly that I was pregnant.”
Jane looked at me. I was still transfixed.
Eliza looked at me. “Don’t you have anything to say, Dexter? Oh, Jane, I think he’s in shock. He really didn’t expect this.”
“Dexter, what’s wrong?” Jane asked. “Aren’t you happy we’re going to have a baby?”
I heard panic in her voice. Eliza heard it, too. “Jane, everything is okay,” she reassured her. “He’s just surprised. Give him a minute to gather his wits.”
I tried to shake off the dumbfounded state that had overwhelmed me. I took a deep breath. My brain began to function again. I managed to croak, “A baby...”
Jane smiled at me radiantly. “Yes, a baby all our own! You can tell it stories. And I’m sure you’ll take good care of it. And my family will help us.”
I tried to force myself to think. It was hard to do, as though the gears of my brain had frozen. “But... don’t you think it’s a little... soon? Besides, the war isn’t quite over yet.”
Jane’s face lost its expression. “Oh no,” she murmured, “I was wrong. You don’t want a child.”
I was distraught at feeling her distress. “Yes, yes, Jane, I do,” I said, feeling swamped. “It’s just that you’re so young!”
Eliza got irritated at me. “Come on, Dexter, you could have taken precautions, after all.”
I sighed. “Tell her, Jane.”
Jane looked down. “I can control my fertility,” she said. “I can have a child whenever I want.”
Eliza was astounded. “My goodness... But why did you...?”
“I wanted to,” Jane said, her eyes still lowered. “I couldn’t wait. And knowing Dexter, he’d have said we’d have to be patient. Too bad. If he doesn’t want a baby, I’ll take care of it myself, with my family.”
I took her hand. “No, Jane, I just have to get used to the idea. At least I’ll have nine months to get ready.”
Jane looked embarrassed. “Actually it’s three months. Accelerated growth...”
Ow. I should have expected that.
“Three months?!” Eliza exclaimed. “How is that possible?”
“I’m a prototype,” Jane said. “The Dohani planned to have me grow fast so they could study me as soon as possible. My children will inherit that trait.”
“Three months,” Eliza mused. “You’d better start thinking about names right away.”
* * *
The Federation government accepted the Dohani terms. The war was over.
Prisoner exchanges began. But on the prison planet, most of the humans decided not to go back to the Federation. They had been living there for years, had formed families, and had their own culture and government. And they had no desire to be annexed by the Federation.
The Dohani told them they could keep the planet and that it would be an autonomous protectorate of the Dohani empire. The Dohani had no desire to interfere in the inhabitants’ affairs. They even provided spaceships, since the people were no longer prisoners. The inhabitants named the planet Alcatraz.
The case of the prison planet put the Federation government’s nose out of joint. No one had ever dreamt that humans might prefer to remain among the Dohani.
And the problem of the pirates remained. The Federation government declared it had no information about them and did not know who they were or where they came from.
I suggested to the Dohani that they go to Earth and request access to the archives. We might find something, perhaps an indication of the origin of the pirate ships. I suspected the Federation government was not really motivated to do any research: the Dohani had become all-powerful and eclipsed Federation authority; that had to rub the government the wrong way.
Our battleship set out for Earth.