Platypus Girl

by Jonathon Sullivan

 

 

"Out comes the optix, platypus girl," the pilot said, pulling the stick on the mosquito.

 

Shari had expected that. She reached behind her head, yanked the optix tiara from her occipital cort-port, and watched what passed for her vision blink away like a net kiosk during a brownout. She held out the smooth curve of silicone, rhodopsoplast and smartmold, and it was taken from her by the acid-musky guy who had piled into the back of the mosquito with her. Even with the vidplant tucked into her cort-port, Shari saw only in smudgy grays and took in the optical world on the flat, perspective-less screen of her atrophic visual cortex. But it was better than nothing, and nothing is what she now had.

 

Blind. But she still had her primary sense.

 

And she had a gig, thank the Holy Homeobox Domain for small favors. Maybe she'd make rent.

 

The mosquito 'thopter pulled away from the salt-smelling riverfront, up into a sky reeking of ozone, sulfide, a crazy mix of nanospecies, just a whiff of nasty nitrox, bird pheromones, and clouds ready to spit their acid insult back into the eye of the city that poisoned them. The two men who had hustled her into the mosquito came with their own smell-soups, of course. But like all the other whiffs in the air their scents were almost choked out by the aroma of the engine's biotank, splitting cellulose and pumping bitter-sour-smelling ATP into the hard-pounding, hypercatalytic drive train of insect flight muscle. The tireless gunk lifted the craft into the sky with a soft buzz of nanofilm wings.††††††

 

The flight lasted ten minutes. The pilot had a sweet-fruity personality, a little too much to be pleasant, like a bowl of bananas about to go rotten. The Musky guy next to her had strong, solid overtones, like bitter black coffee. No licorice harmonics: Musky was Tune-free, a rarity for guys in his business. Shari smelled boredom from his pores, and hoped that was the aura for a smooth afternoon. No excitement, if you please.

 

Banana Man set the mosquito down bumpy but safe. The motor, sculpted chunks of rubbery bumblebee tissue grown out of vats of transfected yeast, took a breather. It smelled salty-hot now, like Korean pickles. Musky Man gripped Shari by the elbow, a little too firmly for comfort, and helped her out of the craft.

 

They walked over a landscape of grassy smells punctuated by the telltale vinegar aroma of buried antipersonnel mines. Shari had whiffed this brand before: Claymores, with Ultra-Fast-Acting Protease Pellets. Reduce a man to soup in less than 30 seconds. Very popular. The wind was fresher here, virtually no trace of nitrox, and Shari could only discern five varieties of airborne nanospores. Doubtless Benny Bird had his estate Air Conditioned. The clean breeze carried the smells of a half-dozen men and their weapons. Dog musk too, but these pooches were certainly the best, fitted with expensive cort-ports that kept them quiet and at heel until Master called.

 

Stone steps under her feet, Musky Man's grip on her elbow growing firmer. Two men stood close, bracketing them, probably on either side of the unseen door.

 

"Whatcha got, Sniff Witch?" The man to her right smelled like rancid cheese, Tune and half-treated gonococcus. He spoke in the harmonics of disgust.

 

"This here's Benny's guest," Musky said, and released his grip to pat Shari on the shoulder. "No need to thrash her."

 

She got a whiff of anger out of Musky. Gono-Cheese gave off a sharp stench of hate. The man to her left smelled amused.

 

"You go in for Duckbills, Leo?," Gono-Cheese asked. "Sniff-bitch's nostrils look a little too roomy for that short stringy Thang you got."

 

A spike of sour rage-toxin pumped out of Musky Leo's pores, and Shari felt him step away.

 

"That'll do," said the third man, and Shari smelled his amusement turn to a sickly mix of excitement and savory fear. The stink of an old hatred simmered between Musky Leo and Gono-Cheese, but she could smell them backing off.

 

Now the third man, who had a salt-alkali aura, spoke to her. "Empty your pockets, Nose. Don't let me find no lethals on you."

 

Shari handed over her datacard and her keys, and outturned her pockets to show they were empty. Then she heard the rhythmic humming of a hand-held MRI.

 

"Hey, what's that?"

 

She felt his fingers at her throat, fondling the pendant that hung there.

 

"It's medicine," she said. "It's for...allergies."

 

"Nose spray, huh?" The Salty Guy snickered. "I woulda thought you'd need more than that. Give it over."

 

"If I have an allergic reaction, I won't be able to read. I could even die."

 

"Then you'll die."

 

Salty Guy's pheromones played rock-solid-serious, and Shari felt a chill percolate down her spine. She unclipped the chain and handed over the little atomizer of catechols and steroids.

 

"Now stick out your hand, Nose," Gono-Cheese commanded. A second later, Shari felt a pinprick in her index finger.

 

"Blood's clean," Gono-Cheese said. "She's not carryin'."

 

"All right, Nose. You're set." Salty snickered again. "Enjoy your stay."

 

Musky led her through the door, into a dwelling that smelled of vastness, cigar smoke, Tune and sex. After that first impression, the odors of a half-dozen interconnected security systems reached her: the walls had just received a new coat of video skin, there were three species of latent assault nanos afloat in the air, and the carpet was a living transfect, a hay-smelling hybrid of yeast and rye with a touch of jellyfish thrown in, probably wet-wired into the house AI, capable of squirting God-knew-what into an intruder. The armed bad boys Shari smelled lurking about seemed like low-tec vestigials compared to such top-of-the-line security beasties.

 

"That man doesn't like you," she said.

 

"Tell me about it," Musky said. "He's bad blood. One of these days I'm going to have make him Therm E-Q. Real slow, like. But that's between us."

 

"Sorry. None of my business."

 

"'S'okay. He shouldn't give you lip just on account of you're a transfex. You're a professional, like me. Here to do a job for Benny Bird. He should respect that."

 

"Thank you."

 

"Yeah. Also, it pisses me off, on account of my sister Jenny's a transfex. A Nose, like you."

 

She would have responded, but something else had her attention now. One of the species of indoor security nanos was an illegal strain. Because of the defect that made her half Nose, half Chemengineer, Shari experienced the world as molecular landscapes both internal and external. So she quickly spotted the synthetic molecule in her tissues, trying to wiggle through nuclear pores to tag her chromatin. Benny Bird wanted his visitors to leave him with the key to their genomes in his hip pocket. Shari heard her unruly immune system barking, straining at the short leash she kept on her lymphocytes and macrophages and mast cells, begging to be let out at the intruder. She gave a sort of internal nod, and a few clones jumped to the task of sweeping Benny Bird's key out of her nuclear lock.†††

 

Musky Leo led her up a staircase, through another checkpoint, and into a room that reeked of fear, hate and greed. Shari smelled six people to either side of the room, two of them transfex. Leo showed her to a chair, his grip softer now, a warm aroma of affection coming off his skin. When she sat, he patted her shoulder once and stood somewhere to her rear.

 

She felt a table before her, and put her hands out where they could be seen.

 

"What kind of shit is this?" came a voice from one of the transfex, seated across from Shari. "You didn't say nothin' about a Nose, Benny. I thought this deal was cut."

 

"If it was cut already, we wouldn't need to be here, Rufus." Benny Bird spoke now, in a raspy, scratchy voice that came out metallic and hard, like deeply etched steel. She knew it was Benny's voice because it came from the man right next to her, who reeked of bird flesh. As a prominent criminal celebrity, Benny Bird had blogs, action figures, t-shirts, and a webcast talk show. She had often seen his blurry image on Net kiosks, sporting his expensive 'fex: craniofacial phenotype of a peregrine, complete with the cruel beak; and broad, glorious, useless wings stretching from his shoulders.

 

"This is a formality--one you should get used to, Rufus. It's getting to be all the fashion."

 

"Ain't the fashion with me, Benny." Rufus had a deep, rumbly voice, but despite the thick masculine veil of his heavy, overly tart cologne, Shari had already sniffed him for an Hermy, and he smelled like he was on his menses. He was also infected with Hepatitis G and addicted to Tune. "This was not agreed to," he said.

 

"Nothing's been agreed to." Benny's solid, meaty smell said dominance; he was in charge. "Do you want to do business or not, Rufus?"

 

A scent of rage and submission trickled from Rufus' direction, like weak urine. It was oddly brief, quickly smothered by the same bland aroma as before. "Let's see your license," he said.

 

When she didn't respond, Rufus tapped the table impatiently. "Hey! You with the frying pan stickin' outta your face! I asked to see your license!"

 

"She doesn't have a license, and you know it," Benny Bird said. "Do you really think I'd bring a licensed Nose to this meeting? Why don't we just invite the Heat?"

 

"If she ain't got a license, how can you trust her?"

 

"She's been used by other outfits. She's recommended. Reliable."

 

"Oh? Which outfits?"

 

"That's not our topic today," Benny Bird rasped. "Are we going to do business or not?"

 

Rufus didn't relent. "How come you ain't got a license, skillet face?"

 

Shari struggled to keep her own distaste under control. Emotion could screw up the reading, her own pheromones and toxins clogging up the massive olfactory bulb and entorhinal cortex that occupied most of her cranium. She took a deep breath, pulling air through her huge nostrils, trying to calm herself. At least she didn't have to see the man's face.

 

"I'm not licensed because I'm defective."

 

She felt malignant satisfaction emanating from Rufus. "You're defective?"

 

"Yes. Not as a Nose--I can take readings fine. But I'm not a pure Nose. There was an error at the Womb Tomb. I was transfected twice by mistake. I was supposed to be a Nose, but I also got some of the genetic material for a Chemengineer. Noses and Chemengineers are similar transfex--hightened molecular awareness. But the double hit screwed up my fetal immune system. My lymphoid tissues are unusually hyperactive and sensitive, and try to cook up all kinds of weird antibodies and aminanos. When that happens, I can develop very severe and unpredictable allergic reactions during readings."

 

Rufus made a sound of sputtering laughter. "Yeah? I bet when you get a snotty nose, you really get a snotty nose!"

 

Laughter erupted from Rufus and his two guys, seated on the other side of the table. Benny's smell had gone from impatient to flat pissed.

 

Shari turned toward Benny Bird. "I can usually control a flare-up with my medicine," she said, "but your men confiscated it."

 

The laughter from Rufus and his boys died down. After a moment of pointed silence, Benny said, "If you need it, we'll de-confiscate it. For now, I think we've wasted enough time. Rufus, you going to deal or not?"

 

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. What do I care some sniff-bitch sits in?"

 

Shari re-focused on Rufus; he was the reading. Definitely his time of the month, and despite his bravado he was anxious about being in Benny Bird's castle. His surprise at seeing a Nose at the meet was doubtless a show. Rufus had probably worn his sour perfume in an amateurish bid to throw her off. The cheap fragrance wouldn't cover his lies any more than it covered the ferric signature of his period, the licorice smell of the Tune swimming in his brain, or his bad breath.

 

"I've got thirty-six kigs of fresh Tune," Benny Bird said. "I want to unload it now. You say you've got what it takes to market it."

 

"Cheesecake," Rufus said, and smelled like he believed it. She caught the anise aroma of fresh Tune, heard him snort it. Deep addiction.

 

"Looking at your sales figs," Benny said, "I've got to believe you might be able to spread twenty kigs before the Tune went sour. Thirty-six--that's pushing it. Even in your fief, demand's not that high."

 

Bolstered by the rush, Rufus emanated self-satisfaction. "Tune moves fast. I'll find somewhere to put it before it turns."

 

"Especially now that you've got control of Walrus's territory."

 

Shari caught the briefest whiff of panic out of Rufus, then an incongruous burst of smug. "You gave me Walrus's fief, Benny," Rufus said.

 

"Nature abhors a vacuum. Somebody splats Walrus, leaves him smeared all over his own castle, what am I going to do? Let any old ronin move in and take over his market? No. And with you right next door, and having worked so close with Walrus, you were just the natural choice to fill his shoes. Am I right?" Now Shari caught a new smell from Benny Bird--not just dominance, not just cunning, but the tart thrill of an impending kill. Benny Bird smelled like an eagle spotting a prairie dog.

 

Rufus, on the other hand, kept making smells that reversed themselves the next instant. Something very twisted was going on. Benny Bird fixing to swoop on Rufus, Rufus somehow playing games with her nose.

 

"You needed a hand," Rufus said. "I was there for you."

 

Benny Bird laughed, a squawking, metallic sound. "Oh, yeah, Mr. Rufus, you were right there, ready to lend me a hand by taking over Walrus' very profitable turf."

 

"I didn't say I was some kind of saint," Rufus said, and Shari struggled to read the kaleidoscope of shifting signals in his skin and breath. "Sure, this has been a good thing for me and my boys. But I didn't ask for Walrus' territory."

 

"You didn't have to." Shari sensed the peak in Benny's catechols, like a spike on a chromatagraph, as he stooped for his prey. "All you had to do was whack him, and make it look like his own boys did it."

 

Shari smelled the panic coming from Rufus for just a millisecond, then a wave of cold confidence. Likewise, she smelled the lying on him before he uttered a word, but by the time he spoke he whiffed of flat truth.

 

"Ah. Now I get it. That's why the Nose, eh, Benny? You think I did Walrus. Well here's the truth, for the record: I did not kill Walrus, nor did I order him killed."

 

Shari sensed the whole room focused on her, waiting for her reading. Rufus had a strong stench of truth on him, but there had been that brief touch of lie....

 

And sometimes that would happen. Even when people had nothing to lose by being truthful, they would consider lying anyway. It was burned into the board, a genetic and altogether human predisposition to consider the potential advantages of misdirection.

 

But Shari knew this was different. When somebody thought about lying and then came clean, you could smell sickly sweet falsehood bleeding into truth. When Rufus spoke, it smelled like a lie getting masked by---

 

Quickly, she scanned up and down the molecular harmonics, found Rufus' cologne, and took a closer look. For the most part, it was pedestrian: cheap isopropyl carrier, synthromes, a touch of animal musk. But one set of molecules didn't look quite right. At first whiff, she'd thought them a cheap floral additive, but on closer examination she found synthetic groups. These molecules were nanospores, cooked up to look organic to a cursory whiff, but reallya set of machines capable of folding into a range of shapes to neutralize the biochemical signature of a lie.

 

"I'm waiting for a reading, Nose," Benny Bird said.

 

"Make him say it again."

 

"What the fuck is this?" Rufus gave of a spike of panic, quickly dampened into mere anxiety.

 

"I need him to say it again, to get a reading," Shari said.

 

"So say it, Rufus."

 

"I already said it."

 

"The Nose wants you to say it again. Tell me you didn't do Walrus. Say it ain't so, Rufus."

 

A long pause ensued, as Rufus' intelligent cologne argued with his skin over what kind of molecular message to send to the world.

 

Then he spoke. "I didn't do Walrus."

 

Shari had had time to calibrate; she caught the native scent just before the cologne could correct. Now she was sure.

 

"He's lying," she said.

 

"Is that so?" A cloud of self-satisfaction, excitement and bloodlust came out of Benny Bird. At her back, she could smell Musky and Benny's other men tensing into readiness. Rufus spiked panic again; again it damped down to anxiety. And something else...

 

"Green light," Rufus said.

 

The room exploded into chaos and ungodly noise, smells of blood and fear and assault nanos. Screams erupted from Rufus' two boys, followed by the stench of their dying. A second later, Benny Bird let out a long, agonized shriek, a hideous sound, like a two hundred pound chicken caught in a food disposal. He gave off the smell to match: flesh and feathers dissolving at the peptide level. Assault nanos were digesting Benny alive. The sound of automatic gunfire slapped at Shari's ears as Benny's boys tried to fight back.

 

A strong hand wrapped around her arm and yanked her from her chair just as she felt the first touch of the nanos on her chest. As Musky pulled her from the room, the burning began, an itchy warmth that took just a few seconds to flower into full-blown agony.

 

"It's on me!" she cried.

 

"It's on me, too," Musky said, grunting as he pulled her up another stairwell, and she could smell the pain on him, mingling with the scent of his degrading flesh. "But not very damn much, or we'd be puddles by now. Hold on."

 

A burst of noise pounded at her eardrums as Musky sprayed his weapon at an intruder somewhere in the darkness. Then he seized her again and pulled her along.

 

They passed through a suite of empty rooms stale with the smells of liquor, sex and Tune. Shari could smell her own skin dissolving, acid pain digging into her chest. She fought her agony and panic and listened as Musky rummaged through some cabinet or cupboard.

 

"Where is it? Where is it? Where the fuck -- there!"

 

He groaned, and gave off a strange olfactory stew of pain and relief. A second later she felt it herself as Musky Leo applied something to her chest. It felt like having a fire on her skin put out with scalding water.

 

The sound of gunfire and exploding Claymores reached through the walls from every direction.Outside the dogs barked rage and alarm, then yelped pain and death.

 

"They're on the grounds," Leo said, and Shari tasted a wave of fear and rage. "Fuckin' Rufus is going to try to take the castle!"

 

"What's happening?" she asked, and tried to control her panic and pain. Assault nanos had chewed a broad, deep hole into her right breast and pectoral muscle. She felt her airways swelling up, and realized her immune system had gone to red alert.

 

"I'd like to know that myself," came a voice from the other end of the room. A burst of fear from Leo melted into cold rage.

 

"Rufus whacked Benny Bird," he said.

 

"What?" The voice was surprised, but the smell didn't match.

 

"He musta planted nanos in his guys. He gave a signal and they just...melted. Exploded. Ate from the inside out. Whaddaya call 'em...Protease assault nanos. Look at my goddam face! And I just got a touch. Benny got sprayed bad. And two of our boys turned traitor--Larry and Smiley. Started shootin' up our guys right on the spot. We was lucky to get out of there."

 

"What the hell is she doing here?"

 

"I brought her, on account of she works for Benny, and she wasn't dead yet. On account of if we ever get outta this, she can testify to the Commission and tell 'em what Rufus done."

 

"You're some kinda optimist, Leo," the voice said, and by now Shari's swelling nose had matched it: Gono-Cheese. He stank of fear, blood and gunpowder. "Rufus' guys are all over the fuckin' grounds. They're in the lower levels of the castle. Most of our guys are wasted. Most of Rufus', too, but there's more of them than of us. What the hell happened?"

 

"I told you what happened. Now you tell me--how'd they get past you?"

 

"Hey, wait a minute, Leo--"

 

"How could you let them in the fuckin' house? You guys were outside! How'd they get on the grounds?"

 

"The Castle AI's wasted! Rufus' guys must have hacked in and--"

 

"No way, shithead, no way." Leo smelled like bloodlust, but Shari was having more and more trouble smelling anything. The lymphoid tissues in her nose and throat swelled and throbbed, and with her Chemengineer's inner eye she watched a thousand beta cell clones baying at the leash, lusting to spill their antibodies or enzymes or aminanos. Without her medicine, she would soon choke to death, or die in anaphylactic shock.

 

"...just back off, Leo!"

 

"You were supposed to spot blood plants. So how did Rufus smuggle in two throwaways loaded with assault nanos? How come you made it up here, but none of your guys? And don't you have a key to the AI? No, don't move, dickhead! How come you didn't look surprised when I told you Larry and Smiley turned traitor? See, I'm thinkin' maybe you did Rufus a favor."

†††††††††† "Don't say another fuckin' word, Leo."

 

"I won't, on account of we're through talkin'."

 

WHAP! The sound of a single gunshot slapped at Shari's ears, and she jumped.

 

"Never did trust him," Leo said. "Told ya I'd make him Therm E-Q someday. Someday is today, on account of I think he was Rufus' boy."

 

Through the walls, they heard gunfire and shouting, growing closer. Leo took her arm again and pulled her along.

 

"We gotta try to make the keep," he said, and they humped another stairwell. It was slow going, because Shari's breath was coming in long, agonized wheezes. Her skin burned and itched. She was dying, and in a faraway part of her mind she told herself she deserved it, because that's what you got when you fell in with a bunch of crooks and Tuneheads. And that triggered another thought.

 

Most of these guys are Tuneheads.

†††††††††††

Tune addicts.

 

Addicted to Tune.

 

As Leo lugged her up the stairs and the shouting and gunfire drew closer, as her brain struggled for clarity in a storm of fear, sickness and hypoxia, the Chemengineer in Shari began auditioning lymphocyte clones. These guys over here made antibodies to Tune, but they wouldn't do because they would never get into the blood stream. Those guys over there made aminanos that would chew Tune in the bloodstream, but they couldn't cook them up fast enough. But this little clone here, this ambitious little guy would cook up acatalytic antibody frag coated with a lipid moiety, a fatty passport that would enable it to slide through the lungs and into the blood.

 

Youíre on, she told it. Once she opened the gate, the clone would expand beyond her control, but hell, she'd already lost control. If her lymphos were going to run riot, she might as well try to aim the stampede at a target. Just before she passed out she watched the rest of her hyper-programmable immune system jump on the bandwagon, quickly shuffling gene cassettes to emulate the selected clone.

 

When she was conscious again, she smelled Leo and gunpowder, she heard screaming and gunfire, and she was sneezing her motherfucking brains out.

 

Fire sprayed out of Leo's weapon, and snot sprayed out of Shari's nose. A lot of snot. She sneezed so hard she thought her neck would snap, erupting a fine mist filled with Tune antisera. The aerosol hung in the air, Shari's last snotty resort, her secret snotty weapon.

 

Leo was shouting at somebody. "You can't hold them down there. We've got to get to the keep!"

 

"There's just a few of them! I can see Rufus!"

 

"Get up here!" Leo yelled.

 

"We can--" WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! "-aaargh!"

 

Spraying mucus had given Shari some breathing space, but she was sneezing too hard to smell anything more subtle than digested flesh, gunfire and blood. Leo had her by her aching shoulder again, yanking her up yet another interminable flight of stairs, around a landing, up another flight. She sneezed all the way.

 

On the second landing, Leo dropped her into a sneezing, snotty heap, and she heard him punching at a keypad.

 

"Open up, motherfucker, open up!"

 

"What's wrong?" she asked, wheezing.

 

"I can't open the hatch to the keep. Probably on account of the AI's dead. Or maybe Benny changed the code before the meeting. Crap!"

 

The castle had fallen into a terrifying quiet. The gunfire had ceased, and even the screaming had stopped.

 

"Hello up there! Anybody home?"

 

Shari sniffled and gasped, trying to hold it back.

 

"Be quiet!" Leo whispered.

 

She sneezed.

 

"You got the Nose up there!" Rufus' voice. "Send her down, and we'll leave the rest of you up there to talk to the Heat. We've got what we want. Benny's therm E-Q, and there ain't nobody left but you guys up there. Shit, you can sign on with me if you want. This is my territory now. It's done. So send her down."

 

She heard Musky Leo step away and a moment later a new eruption of gunfire that stopped as suddenly as it started.

 

"Oops," Leo said, breathing hard.

 

She sneezed. "What's going on?" she asked, and her voice was a rasp.

 

"Just Rufus and one of his guys," Leo said, and his voice rattled with pain. "I think we all just, whaddaya call it, annihilated each other. Just us two and them two. Only I guess Rufus wins, on account of I just got shot in the chest. Fuck!"

 

He wheezed and gurgled and she heard him slump to the floor.

 

She sneezed.

 

"Hey!" Rufus sounded closer now. "I can hear her up there. One of those nasty allergy attacks, eh? Listen, Nose, I don't wanna whack you. I think you're pretty good! Whiffed me right through my newfangled cologne! Let me put you..put you...put you on retainer! Come on down, we'll get out of here...out of here... before the Heat shows! Guys, you let her come down, I won't have to come up there and...I won't..."

 

She heard another voice from the stairwell now, between sneezes. "Boss, I don't...I don't....I don't feel too good."

 

"Shut the fuck up," Rufus said. "They can hear...they can hear..."

 

"Don't feel too...too...too.. aaayayayayaya.... aaargggh!"

 

A loud thump then, a sound exactly like somebody cracking his head against the stairs. Then Rufus: "What the...what the... Bitch! What the fuck...the fuck...what the fuck did you do?"

 

A burst of gunfire then, and she heard bullets from the stairwell chewing at the wall behind her. She crouched blind and helpless behind Musky Leo's dead body, knowing it wouldn't matter, knowing Rufus would make it up the last flight to punch holes in her just before he died, and thatís what you get when you work for a bunch of Tuneheads isnít it?

 

And Rufus did make it up the last flight, gun spraying wild and stupid in every direction, and then he crumped somewhere a few feet away, and she heard him going ayayayayaya, and heard his melon banging rhythmically against the floor, skull cracking as each convulsion took him, because that's what happened to Tuneheads who didn't take their Tune, or to Tuneheads who inhaled snotty aerosolized Tune antisera that got into their bloodstream and ate all their Tune, just sucking all that sweet synthetic neuropeptide right out of their synapses.

 

Instant withdrawal seizure.

 

She kept sneezing for a long time, and that at least kept the air moving in and out for awhile. But soon the swelling in her tissues took charge again, and she began to choke. Her brain started to do funny things, dreaming funny dreams. But just before one of the dreams got really interesting she woke up, smelling a room rich with life and death, sweet air running through her nostrils.

 

"Is that better?" somebody said, really close. "The medicine should be working. Can you breathe?"

 

"Yeah," she croaked. She tasted catechols and synthroids swimming through her, restoring order, bringing her immune system to heel. "Yeah, I can breathe."

 

She could smell, too. Men and women were running around, talking police talk, making police smells. Over there she could whiff a lactate-rich, Tune-poor Rufus, deader than dog shit. And over there Musky Leo, no longer Musky but not quite rotten, cooling fast. Therm E-Q.

 

They couldn't figure how to put an oxygen mask on her. Finally, they just had her hold it under her nostrils to let it waft up, O's to her nose. As they put her on the

stretcher and carried her down the stairwell of the Donjon, Shari breathed sweet air and told herself she needed to find a new gig.

 

Maybe something in aroma therapy.