The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
|Chapter 12: Progression|
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.” But the question remains: not “Who is she?” but “What is she?” Human? Dohani? Neither? Both?
Jane appears not to use anything resembling a human language, but she begins to communicate through body language and by drawing pictures. Meanwhile, the Dohani are going to extraordinary lengths to rescue her. Jane and Dexter are moved to a world near the center of human space. Humans and the Dohani are now playing for high stakes. Another question becomes urgent: what is at stake?
I found ecstasy, blessed rapture|
In a harmony that takes me higher
It’s controlling me, I’ve been captured
In a melody that sets my soul free
— Sepiamusic, Musiclife
Days passed. Jane had learned so many words that she could now read texts all by herself. She often asked me what one term or another meant, but she was improving. She had assimilated grammar rules and was making fewer and fewer errors.
The engineers had modified a portable screen for her and equipped it with a voice synthesizer that pronounced what she wrote. And it had voice recognition capacity, which transcribed what it heard onto the screen. Now she could get by on her own.
The device also had a narrow shoulder strap; we could converse anywhere without needing a computer notepad. Her artificial voice was a little cold and mechanical, and the strangest thing about it was hearing it without her opening her mouth, because the machine was speaking for her.
Jane was very rapidly becoming more human. She spoke and acted almost like a normal human being. She had moved from the status of a wild animal to that of a civilized, socialized person. Or at least that was the impression she gave.
One day, when the scientific team was getting ready to leave, she came up to Charts and asked, “Charts, would you like to work out with me? Unarmed combat?”
Charts’ face brightened. “Glad to, pretty lady, but please, don’t go all out, okay?”
Jane nodded, and I followed them to the gym. Charts took off his coat and began to warm up, but Jane just went to the middle of the room. She closed her eyes and relaxed.
“Don’t you need to warm up?” Charts asked. Since she didn’t seem to understand, he explained. “Prepare your muscles. Otherwise they may be injured. We humans have to do that.”
“No,” she answered, “my muscles are always ready. They don’t need to be prepared for combat.”
Charts took his place in front of Jane. “Let’s go.”
The combat began. Charts threw punch after punch at Jane. She bent, withdrew and whirled to avoid them. She feinted right and kicked with her left leg, slowly and not too hard. Charts blocked the move, grabbed her leg and yanked it upwards, throwing Jane to the mat. He immediately put a knee on his opponent’s chest. Jane was down and Charts had won.
“Cool,” he said, “I must be the first human who’s ever beaten you!”
“That’s right,” said Jane. “Now I’m going to speed up a little.”
Charts was smiling broadly. The combat began again. This time, Jane kept spinning around Charts, who had trouble following her rhythm. He tried to break off and take a better position, but Jane immediately attacked and harassed him. Charts began to return her punches and take the initiative. Jane suddenly executed a perfect back-flip and landed on her feet. Charts moved in with a little too much confidence; she grabbed him by the arm and threw him over her shoulder.
“Ow!” Charts exclaimed. “You got me that time.” She held out her hand to help him up.
They continued until Charts raised him arms in defeat. “I’ve had it,” he said. “I have to stop now. Thanks; I really enjoyed that. Let’s do it again sometime.”
Jane put her hand on his shoulder. “You’re a good fighter,” she said, “and a good human.”
Charts laughed. Jane didn’t jump; she had become accustomed to human laughter but still did not really understand what it was. The Dohani apparently had no sense of humor; that was one of the rare areas in which the human race was clearly superior. She did not know how to smile, either. But since she saw everybody doing it, she had begun to acquire the habit of imitating us, although with limited success.
Jane and Charts worked out in the gym every evening. They taught each other martial arts tactics, but most of Jane’s motions depended on her superhuman speed, which Charts could not match. Even so, he and Jane both enjoyed the combat sessions very much.
* * *
Jane discovered music. She had never paid much attention to sounds, because the Dohani did not use the sense for communication.
“The Dohani use sound for sonar,” she explained. “We send out an impulse and hear the form of the object on echo. The sound waves go out through the palms of my hands. I turn them toward the object I’m examining.”
“We guessed as much,” I said with a smile. “That’s how you always found an escape route when you were running away, on the space station.”
“Yes, there were a lot of hidden passageways. It was easy.” She made one of her artificial smiles; one might have called it a smirk. “When I hear a sound, it’s analyzed by my sonar. I perceive the sound in all its complexity. That’s why I can’t learn human words; they’re too complex. It’s difficult. But certain sounds are magnificent; the sound of your voice, for example.”
“That’s why you stopped fighting, on the Phoebus, right?”
“Yes, I had never heard a sound like that.” She stopped, lost in reminiscence. “Can you show me music?” she asked suddenly.
I could download all kinds of files to my notepad, including music. First, I had her listen to single instruments: piano, violin, guitar... She listened intently, concentrating. Then I had her listen to more complex music, with several instruments. When I put on a symphony, she looked at me in bewilderment. “But it’s so rich I can’t follow it!”
“Jane,” I told her, “you mustn’t try to separate out each instrument; listen to them all together. There are often several melodies: a main melody you hear clearly and secondary melodies.”
But it was too hard for her. She soon gave up.
* * *
The next day she discovered a video of classical dance. She was enthralled. “This is magnificent,” she said. “It’s like martial arts with a precise rhythm.” She watched dance videos for hours. Then she grabbed my hand. “Come with me,” she said, “I want to show you something.”
She led me to the gym. She took my computer notepad, started it playing a song, and danced in perfect rhythm to the music. It was magical. She had remembered all the dance movements she had seen, and she strung them together, leaping, kneeling, jumping up again, doing en pointe. She was made for it, a born dancer.
When the song stopped, she ran over to me. “Was that okay?” she asked.
“That was... that was... extraordinary, Jane. You’re an excellent dancer.”
“Thanks,” she said, hugging me. “I think I understand music now.”
* * *
Jane simply could not use a pencil, something that baffled the scientists. She tried to draw on a sheet of paper, but the results were a catastrophe, like a two-year old’s. Charts hung up her scribblings in the gym; he was trying to distract her by reminding her how hopeless she was at drawing pictures. But she didn’t care. She knew how to generate images directly on a screen, with her implant; why bother with a pencil? It was good enough for those crazy humans.
Jane asked me to tell her about my life. I told her about my childhood on Pandore-4.
My parents had been poor, but I was happy. I told her about the gang I had led. And I told her of some of our exploits, like the time we painted our teacher’s cat green, because she had punished us. I remembered the beating my father gave me; he let slide a lot of things, but he would not abide misbehaving at school.
I told of our rivalries with other gangs of boys. My first flirting with a girl, when I was eleven. She was a girl in my gang, a year older than I, and she wanted to seduce me to become my second in command. I was too young. I didn’t realize what she wanted, and I threw her out of the group. My vocation as a soldier had come suddenly, when the war with the Dohani broke out.
Jane listened to me, fascinated by the memories I brought back. She told me her childhood had been much calmer. She had enrolled in a military school because she liked to fight. I understood she was a kind of officer, like myself, but she did not seem to have an exact rank. There was a hierarchy, but everybody’s position in it tended to change. I wondered how the Dohani managed to get organized.