|Table of Contents|
The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
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, but a resolution is impossible: humans and the Dohani find each other incomprehensible and have no way to communicate.
Lieutenant Dexter Zimski leads a commando squad in a raid on a Dohani base. They return with a bizarre captive, one who looks for all the world like a 16-year old human girl. But the resemblance is only superficial. The question is not “Who is she?” but “What is she?” Human? Dohani? Neither? Both?
If humans can talk to her, they may be able to talk to the Dohani. But one thing is certain: communication is not going to be easy. No, not easy at all.
Chapter 1: Contact
Time to move along|
Everything’s gone wrong
Better catch that bus
— The Primitives, Run Baby Run
“Entering radar coverage,” said the pilot. “Stealth mode, radio silence.”
He didn’t need to remind us; we had turned off our comm links a long time ago. We really did not want to be detected by the Dohani.
The ship streaked through the night of space. We were hurtling towards an enemy space station, built on an asteroid. It was still only a distant point of light, but in a few minutes we would be able to make out its details.
I observed the members of my team. They were tense. Faces stern, concentrated. I knew what they were thinking. In a few moments, we might all be dead.
We had anticipated and planned everything. Different escape routes, many exits. Each of us knew the layout of the station by heart; we felt we had lived there for weeks. We knew exactly what to do and when to do it.
But, of course something would go wrong. Even the best plans don’t survive the first few minutes of battle. I sighed. Damn war anyway.
“Two minutes,” the pilot murmured, as though he didn’t dare speak too loudly for fear the enemy might hear us. The Dohani station was close, and that was making him nervous.
In front of me, Sergeant Frederick Charts, the strongest guy on the team, was checking his weapons slowly and precisely. Modified electromagnetic assault rifle with laser sight and infrared goggles. Charts had adjusted his weapon to diminish the muzzle speed of the projectile. Even so, I hoped he wouldn’t need to use it; it wouldn’t be very discreet. A high-powered military tranquilizer gun, capable of piercing the hide of a Dohani at a hundred metres and sedating it for at least two hours: quiet and clean. Regulation Crossover 828 handgun with two cartridges. And to top it off, the standard commando knife, which might come in handy, you never know. The average Dohani was massive; we believed the gravitational field of their home planet was slightly less than that of Earth. A well-trained man could move around a Dohani quickly, harassing it and making it want to beat a hasty retreat.
Charts’ head was shaved almost bald; he had a square jaw and was built like a tank. But he was trustworthy, never lost his cool, and was very quick, especially for someone of his size.
Even so, this station was inhabited by thousands of our enemies; if it came to hand-to-hand combat, we would be done for. I shuddered, imagining a horde of Dohanis charging us. I had to stop imagining such scenarios or I would panic when the mission started.
To the right of Charts sat Corporal Tim M’go: short, dark-skinned, our explosives expert. He was re-reading for the millionth time the instructions for our EMP bomb. He kept looking up at it, caressing it with his gaze. After all his time in the Army he was still just a corporal because he seemed determined to pick fights with his superior officers. He had never succeeded in holding a higher rank for more than a couple of weeks. Who would have imagined that someone so touchy and nervous would be able to handle practically every known explosive, from good old dynamite to tactical nuclear missiles. He was a nutcase, but his skills were so valuable that the Army preferred to keep him rather than send him away to rot in a military prison.
Beside him was Sergeant-Major Karine Dumas, reconnaissance and communications specialist. She was blonde, graceful and seemed out of place in this team of macho soldiers. But she could run faster than anybody, and she knew how to move in absolute silence. She was also able to make a radio transmitter out of bits of metal salvaged from the bottom of a garbage can — although I could not really see her rummaging through a garbage can.
To my left was Corporal Theodore Miller, the youngest of us all. But he, too, had his head screwed on right. We had to have that, if we were to be bold enough to infiltrate an enemy facility and creep like mice towards our objective, knowing that at any moment the cat could pounce and devour us all.
Oh great, I had started again: another imaginary scenario to put me in terrible shape for the mission.
I was leading this squad because I had fought the Dohani dozens of times. My experience with them made me a not-insignificant asset — according to headquarters. Gotta be kidding. I hardly knew any more about the Dohani and their way of thinking than a civilian following the news at dinnertime.
At least I knew how to command. It was a skill I had acquired by unorthodox means...
I am Lieutenant Dexter Zimski, 25 years old. I’ve been in the Army for nine years. I was born on Pandora 4, a planet colonized two centuries ago, where the climate is pretty cold. I was no genius at school; on the contrary, my studies were no more than mediocre, and I had no special advantage in becoming an officer. But I was the leader of a street gang.
We weren’t very tough: no drug trafficking or other serious offences, but we did a lot of stupid stuff; mainly we fought against rival gangs.
I became the leader naturally; I easily learned to judge the character of the other guys and knew how to boss them around. I was 15 when the war with the Dohani broke out. I had only one idea in my head: to go and fight the aliens. My marks at school quickly improved, and I got into the military academy the following year. The recruiters noticed my leadership skills, saw in me a future officer, and signed me up for non-commissioned officer school. They knew that with combat experience I would rapidly rise through the ranks.
After a year’s training, I left for the front, a very young sergeant. In the beginning, I was posted to a space station. Life there was extremely monotonous, and I was very disappointed. We wouldn’t have been able to do anything if we were invaded; we could do nothing but wait. Finally, a year later, I was sent to a space-going vessel, a gigantic battleship. I took part in assaults on Dohani planets. I was sent on special operations missions, the most dangerous ones. They were not my favourite activity, but headquarters was convinced that I was most useful there, and there I achieved the rank of lieutenant.
So it wasn’t for the first time that I was carrying out this kind of mission.
A few hundred metres from us, another ship, identical to our own, was streaking towards the asteroid. Alpha squad, led by Captain Finn. My men and I made up Beta squad. Both teams had the same mission: place an EMP at the heart of the station to neutralize its generators, which would permit our destroyer, the Phoebus, to capture it without encountering any opposition, or just about. The station was of “major strategic interest,” which would allow us to continue our progress into enemy territory and beyond. There would be no point in sending us to a useless enemy outpost...
By sending two shuttlecraft, headquarters thought that the Dohani could detect only one team at most. That would allow the other team to accomplish its mission easily. Well, easily, in a manner of speaking.
I had no idea if their reasoning was valid or not. Dohani psychology was impenetrable. But, the higher-ups felt it was worth a try.
Suddenly the ship shuddered, the inertial shock absorbers were activated and the reactors started up again. The surface of the asteroid was rushing upwards toward us. The timing was tight, but the computers did a good job most of the time.
A shock jarred the ship. We had arrived.
* * *
A few minutes later, we entered the station. There had been no trouble so far. Apparently the Dohani were sleeping like logs.
I examined the corridor. Three metres high, four wide. An average corridor, for a Dohani.
The Dohani resemble giant two-legged lizards between two and two and a half metres tall. Their most disturbing characteristic is their two pairs of arms: two powerful arms, ending in claws, designed to kill; and below those, two shorter arms with three-fingered hands for manipulating objects.
They also have four eyes, entirely red; even the pupil seems scarlet. Two eyes are situated towards the front of their heads, with two others on the side. Their gaze is inhuman, fearsome. Their head is elongated and resembles the mouth of a reptile. They are crowned with two big ears — their hearing is very sensitive. They have long tails ending in a sort of bony ball. This ball is in fact comprised of spines which can move away from each other, forming a hedgehog-like object. This makes their tails maces, which they can swing forcefully, injuring their enemies and throwing them many metres away.
Their ancestors must have been terrifying predators.
Their skin is smooth and thick, and Dohanis come in all colours. They are able to change colour slowly; we saw it happen in those we had captured. Numerous hypotheses had been formulated concerning the significance of these colours, but none had been proven.
We called them Dohani because we had discovered them in the Dohan solar system, when a vessel arrived to start a colony there. In fact, they were not native to the system, but the name stuck. We had no idea of their real name.
In the corridor, the light was very weak; the station was in night mode. And yet we saw Dohani hieroglyphics on the walls. Nobody had ever been able to decipher their written language.
We had taken off the helmets of our tactical suits, and in the air there floated a slightly acidic scent that I knew well: the smell of our enemy.
Behind me, Quartermaster Sergeant Rogami, our engineer, was finishing the emplacement of the plaque camouflaging the temporary airlock. This was fixed to the exterior of the station; its automatic saws had cut a hole in the hull, allowing us to enter the corridor without difficulty and, most importantly, without drawing attention to ourselves. On return, if everything worked out, we would destroy the airlock and this section would be depressurized, preventing the Dohani from following us.
I gave the signal and we began to advance.
* * *
The station was quiet. We were no more than a few dozen metres from their main generator. No news from the other team; radio silence was still in effect. But we hadn’t heard any firing; they probably hadn’t been spotted.
The walls of the Dohani base were uniformly grey, their monotony interrupted only by huge square doors.
* * *
We reached the generator without encountering a living soul. The structure hummed, its fusion reactor working to provide energy for the whole station. It was covered with Dohani symbols. A multitude of pipes and cables ran out from the generator, which was glowing in the shadows.
We had come in from the north side. Alpha team was coming from the south, the other side of the generator; we weren’t going to meet them. In the case of a clash, the Dohanis would probably focus on just one team.
M’go managed to get the electromagnetic nuclear pulse bomb in place. When it exploded, it would not do a lot of material damage, but its resonators would create an extremely powerful pulse. Only a few military materials could resist such a shock, and the generator was much too big to have such shielding; it would have taken up more than half the station.
Once their generator was destroyed, the Dohanis would be defenceless and the real attack could begin.
It was time to turn back.
* * *
Dumas was running towards us. She had spotted something. From the urgent signs she was making at us, there were three Dohanis advancing in our direction. I looked around. There was a large door just to our left. I opened it without effort — it glided on rails, silently — and we crept inside, praying to the heavens we would not find more Dohanis.
I pushed the door to close it. It came to with a light click. We stopped moving. Heavy steps were approaching.
Nobody breathed. Outside, the footsteps stopped.
My heart was beating too quickly. It was impossible to calm down.
Finally the steps resumed, the Dohanis moved away. We could breathe again.
“Good move, Lieutenant,” remarked Dumas.
I was now better able to see the room around us. It was immersed in almost complete darkness, and it had taken several seconds for our eyes to adjust enough to make out details.
It was an immense room. It was filled with enclosed, square cells. Each enclosure was five or six metres on a side. Their edges were barriers about forty centimetres high filled with small, whitish balls. In each enclosure were many Dohanis.
A dormitory. The Dohanis slept together in these enclosures in groups of six or seven.
We had walked into a damned wasps’ nest. Good move? No, it was a catastrophe.
I tried not to panic and opened the door again. I heard a stifled exclamation behind me and glanced back.
Miller was face to face with a wakened Dohani, who was almost a metre taller than he.
For two seconds nothing happened. The Dohani seemed as stunned as we were.
Then all hell broke loose.
Copyright © 2012 by Martin Kerharo