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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

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Chapter 3: Flight

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, 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.

I’ll give you a dose
But it’ll never come close
To the rage built up inside me.
    — Rage Against the Machine, Wake Up

I was waiting. We do that a lot in the army.

After a while, the medical monitor beeped three times. I sat up. Jane’s vital signs were becoming more intense.

I stood up to see what was going on, but Jane was still motionless. Then I saw her take a deep breath and open her eyes. Her red, non-human eyes. It was hard to get used to a look like that. Suddenly she sat up on her bed and immediately her expression changed; it became a mask of pain. She rolled into a ball and moaned as she held her head in her hands. The sedative had given her a terrible hangover.

I called Eliza, who had returned to the infirmary, to tell her that Jane had woken up.

After a few minutes, Jane must have been feeling better; she tried to sit up again but more carefully this time. I felt a little sorry for her, but Charts was smirking. “She’s getting a dose of her own medicine,” he said. “Good. That’ll teach her she’d better not attack us.”

Jane heard our voices and immediately looked toward us. But it was a bad idea; the movement was too quick and made her nauseous. She fell back onto the bed, and Charts burst out laughing.

Eliza had come into the room and was observing Jane attentively. Cameras were recording everything that was happening.

Jane moved again and managed to sit up. She looked at us and jumped to all fours on the bed. Then she came up to the window as close as she could to us.

I realized I was the one she was looking at.

She had gone back to sitting cross-legged on the bed and was still staring at me. She had stopped moving. I saw on her face the same look of astonishment I had seen in the docking bay.

I took a few steps toward her. She kept watching me.

“She doesn’t seem dangerous,” Eliza said. “She hasn’t even taken off the biometrical patches.”

“You can’t trust her!” Charts exclaimed.

Jane was still motionless, looking at me with her red eyes and as surprised as ever.

“Why is she looking at you like that, Lieutenant Zimski?” Eliza asked.

“I have no idea,” I answered. “But you can call me Dexter.”

“In the docking bay,” Charts said, “the creature stopped fighting as soon as she heard the Lieutenant. Then she crawled toward him even though she was half unconscious from the tranquilizers.”

“She looked at me in exactly the same way as she’s doing now,” I added.

“If she were human,” Eliza intervened, “I’d say the behaviour was psychotic. But it might be completely normal for Dohanis. Since we know nothing at all about Dohani psychology, we’re right back where we started.”

Jane was keeping the same pose.

“Has she said anything? Some words?” Eliza asked.

“Nothing at all,” I answered.

She sighed. “Completely bizarre, incapable of communicating. She’s acting exactly like a Dohani.”

* * *

A few minutes later, Jane got up and, after thinking for a few seconds, she took the mattress and put it on the floor. She sat down on it as she had before and continued to look at me in astonishment.

An hour later I decided to approach her. I stood within one meter of the wall and began to speak to her. “Hello, Jane. My name is Dexter. How do you feel?”

She continued to look at me. Her expression did not change. I thought her eyes widened as she saw me come closer. They were fascinating: the pupils were minuscule and made her eyes look like two perfectly round, red discs.

“Do you understand me?” I asked. “Can you speak?” I pointed to my mouth. “Say words. Make sounds. Like this?”

No reaction. Either she didn’t understand a thing — which was logical if her mind was more Dohani than human — or she preferred to remain silent.

I continued speaking to her for a few moments but had no results. I gave up and went back to sit on the bench with the others.

* * *

Jane was given some dinner. The Dohani ate fruit and vegetables they brought from their home world and cultivated in their colonies. They did not eat meat, as far as we knew. Humans grew the same fruit and vegetables for the Dohani prisoners, or at least for those who did not go into hibernation, and there was a small store of food on board in case a Dohani prisoner might be transferred in. And that was exactly our situation.

“Dohani biochemistry is very close to ours,” Eliza explained, “and we should be able to eat their food and vice-versa. But the taste is completely different.”

In fact, the odour emanating from the tray was rather disagreeable. The serving also contained human food in case Jane might have had a special diet among the Dohani.

Jane was still sitting cross-legged on the mattress, her red eyes staring at me with their expression of surprise. She kept looking at me tirelessly. She was completely motionless, and even her eyes never blinked.

I was surprised she wasn’t trying to escape, to break down the wall or wreck everything. She was perfectly calm, a million light-years from her warrior personality. She still hadn’t removed the medical probes pasted on her skin.

The dinner tray was placed in the airlock. The door opened on Jane’s side, and she immediately went to see what was going on.

She picked up the tray, took it over to her mattress, and examined the food. She took some bits of human food and, intrigued, looked and sniffed at it. She made a face and sneezed, which made us all laugh.

She quickly looked up at us and jumped up off of the mattress. Her expression had become cold. Her knees were slightly bent, and I realized she was in a combat stance. Was she angry at us for laughing at her?

After a few seconds she decided to ignore us and went back to the mattress, where she again took an interest in the dinner tray. She took the plates of human food and put them carefully on the floor, as far away from her as she could. Then she ate her meal without turning her eyes away from me. She had no trouble using a fork. The utensils were made of plastic, of course. We had seen how dangerous she was with her bare hands; it was out of the question to give her a metal knife.

When she had finished, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She seemed to be satisfied.

To our great surprise she picked up the human food and put it back on the tray, which she placed next to the airlock.

She understood perfectly: she was a prisoner, and she knew the rules of the game.

* * *

I received a call from the Intelligence Service Captain. “She seems very calm. We’ve decided to let her out.”

My hair stood up on my head. “What?! She’ll slaughter us all.”

Charts and Eliza sat up, disturbed, when they heard my words.

“We’ll take precautions. The corridors will be locked and made inaccessible to her. But we have to see her move. We have to make her confident if we’re going to communicate with her. Keeping her penned up will lead nowhere.”

I tried to argue, to persuade him to give up the plan or at least wait a while. I knew what she was capable of. It was no use.

“That’s an order, Lieutenant,” he barked. “We’re running a risk, but we’ve analyzed the recordings. We’ve seen she doesn’t fight to kill, only to neutralize her enemies.”

I thought about M’go’s broken jaw. I did not think he would agree with that analysis. It was a hell of a risk. And I was going to be on the front line...

“We’ll proceed by stages. First, get Doctor Doyle out of there. We’ll bring you combat gear and three men as reinforcements. Then open the airlock door.”

We obeyed. The three men that Captain Tacoma sent us were husky, about the same size as Sergeant Charts.

When I opened the inner door of the airlock, on Jane’s side, she did not react. She must have thought there would be no chance she would be let out. I smiled to think that if she had known what the Captain’s plan was, she would have found it as stupid as I did.

I stood in front of the outer door of the airlock and made signs to her to come out. She peered around to be able to see me, because the airlock partially hid me. Finally she did get up, slowly, probably wondering what trap she was going to fall into now.

She entered the airlock, still staring at me through the porthole.

I pressed the button that started the cycle. The inner door closed and the outer door began to open.

Behind me, Charts and the other men had raised their dart guns.

Jane took a step outside the airlock. I had moved back a good ways. Normally I would have been safe in my combat uniform, but I did not feel so comfortable. She was only a few meters away from me. Even with the tranquilizer darts, if she felt like attacking us, we would be outnumbered.

She looked around.

“Everything is okay, Jane,” I said in a soothing voice.

She stared at me immediately, surprised. She didn’t move. My voice had a strange effect on her every time.

She still had not attacked. I couldn’t believe it. What was going on in that head of hers?

She took two more steps toward us.

“You see? We don’t want to hurt you,” I said.

A moment went by. The colonel murmured into my earpiece: “I’m opening the door of the quarantine block. Take her out for a walk. All the other corridors are blocked. Even if she runs away, she won’t get very far.”

I heard a click behind me.

“Okay,” I said, “we’re all going to go out, and she should follow us.”

One by one, the men moved into the corridor. Jane followed me slowly. Now she was in the corridor and looking around. She began to sniff at the surface of one of the walls.

That’s when the incident occurred.

Jane sneezed, and one of the men broke out laughing. You couldn’t blame him: Jane could be unintentionally very funny.

She immediately swung on the man who was laughing; her face impassive, her eyes cold and calculating. She flexed her knees slightly, as she had before.

Charts immediately raised his dart gun. “Watch out!” he yelled.

As soon as she saw he was about to fire, she turned on her heels and ran.

“Hold your fire!” I ordered.

Too late; the the darts were flying. Fortunately they missed her. Or maybe it was not such a good thing: what damage would she do now? She was running so fast she had already reached a bend in the corridor.

I sprinted after her. “Dammit,” I snapped at the men, “you didn’t have to shoot. She can’t get very far anyway.”

I arrived at the corridor where Jane should have been trapped. The other men were on my heels. I was ready to talk to her and calm her down.

But the corridor was empty. She had disappeared.

Proceed to part 2...

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

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