Sunday, August 28, 2011

We woke early the next morning. I felt fully refreshed, and I reflected that for a soldier, being able to get by on two hours of sleep a night could be the difference between life and death. We sensed each of us awakening, too, and soon Alex and James had slipped through the curtains to join me sitting on the middle bed. James turned the seat beside the bed around and sat astride it, and Alex curled up on the end of the bed. Her standard hospital-issue pyjamas were fighting a battle against sexiness, and being utterly routed. I raised my knees and hugged them as a sort of topological camouflage.

So, Alex, why don’t you tell us about yourself? I mean, you heard all about us before we went under, but...”

What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” I finished for him, in my best Bogart accent. She gave me a tolerant smile, and answered with a question.

Did either of you two ever consider joining the army?”

Yeah, sure,” James replied, “Join up, travel the world, meet interesting people, and kill them. Kind of looking like we’ve been drafted right now, in fact.”

What about you, Will?”

Well, when I was about ten... do you know the song ‘Army’, by Ben Folds Five? The first two lines of that song more or less describe it...”

I think I’ve heard it before, but... remind me?”

I cleared my throat.

Well, I thought about the army,

Dad said, ‘Son, you’re fuckin’ high’

He, uh, didn’t use language quite as strong as that, but that was basically what he was trying to get across.”

You’ve got a really nice singing voice,” Alex told me.

Quick! Get some eggs and a frying pan and we’ll do breakfast on his forehead!” James crowed. I threw my pillow at him, and he caught it nimbly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Look into this light. Now this light. Which is brighter? Which is sharper? Now what about this? Can you smell a sweet smell? Flowers? Can you identify which type? This is sample A, and this sample B. Can you tell me which came from a man, and which from a woman? How old was the woman? The colour of her hair? How long had it been since her last period when the sample was taken? Take these two rods. Which is warmer? The difference between these two rods is precisely two degrees Kelvin. Can you tell me now which is the warmer of these two rods? By how much? Make a guess. To the nearest thousandth of a degree, perhaps. Which of the rods is aluminium, and which steel?

Neither. The left is pure tungsten, the right copper-nickel.” No smell, no difference in the finish, both were hollow. I could tell, even so, the information rising unbidden from hidden pockets of my memory.

Very good. Now, take these two rods. Which contains an electric current? How many milliamps? Open your mouth. Which of these two drops contains ginger, and at what level of dilution? What does the voice on this recording say? How many, how much, which, where, when, who... the questions went on and on, my head stuck in one box, my arms in two others, each part of my body isolated and provided only the sensations I was to assess. Days, months, years later, the box was cracked open, and tidy young men helped me out. Alex was leaning against the wall, arms spread, drinking in the unsegmented sensations available even here in the sterile warehouse. I went over and joined her. Our eyes met for a moment. I think if either of the orderly orderlies had declared we had to go back in to make one last measurement, both of us would have clawed their eyes out.

James was pulled from his box last. Say what you like about him,1 but he can shake off just about anything. He walked over to us on legs that were quivering, but still a lot surer than mine.

Do you think we get dinner?” As he spoke, the two looked up from the work of packing away, and the shorter one spoke in an American accent.

We’ll bring it in to you as soon as possible.”

All three of us ate like wolves, or at least like the wolves of the ancient metaphor are reputed to eat. We probably shouldn’t have, with our stomachs empty for two weeks, but somehow we managed to stuff ourselves without the slightest problem. Perhaps it was another gift from the Professor, like the way I could hear the tiny little moans Alex made as she dug her teeth into a leg of roast chicken, and again later that evening when she was snuggling into her pillow in our little hospital ward.

It took me a long time to get to sleep.

1Please feel welcome to, I’m sure I’ll agree with most of it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Eventually, we got dressed – the clothes were what we’d been wearing when we arrived, freshly laundered. Whoever the army had doing their laundry had tried to iron our Hawaiian shirts the same way one would a dress uniform shirt, which Alex found hilarious. Her own American army uniform looked amazing on her, but I’ve always been a sucker for a girl in uniform.

We all hobbled around to the office, where the professor plied us with pots of yoghurt and commiserations, and Crenshaw bombarded us with questions.

Well? What’s it like?” We all considered his query for a moment, then James spoke for us all.

It’s like going through puberty again, only without the spots.”

My god,” the professor breathed, “that bad?”

Well, whenever we smell someone of the opposite sex-” I began.

Or the gender we’re attracted to,” Alex broke in, which set me back. She’d experienced it when it was just us in the room, but... she must be bisexual. And then I realised I could actually smell James’ rising interest, and the way he was grinning at me meant he could smell me having the same reaction. Alex grinned at both of us in a way that told me she could smell it on both of us. It was going to be very hard to keep secrets from each other.

Anything else?” The professor broke in, jolting us back to the task at hand.

It’s... like a dream. Hard to take it all in. New colours, new smells, all the old senses and impulses turned up to eleven...” I trailed off.

It’s like a mind-bending drug you’re never going to come down off,” James added

That really is what it’s like. It reminds me of being on acid, though not quite so intense.” Well, well. Our soldier girl was becoming more interesting with every sentence. I tried breathing even more shallowly through the mouth. A smell shouldn’t affect me this badly...

What the hell did you do to our vomeronasal organ, Professor?” I blurted out. He grinned at me, like a dog that’s just done a clever new trick, though I admit my perception of his facial expression might have been clouded by the stress I was under, or perhaps the fact that I could trace every capillary beneath his skin.

Our whatnow?” James asked, once again showing why he’d sat next to me with a crick in his neck all through our biology exams.

An organ in the nose, which some people didn’t even think humans had. It’s used to sense pheromones, and it’s more or less hotwired into the base of the brain.” Alex stuck her pink tongue out at me mischievously, and my chest tightened.

Indeed. Experiments showed some time ago that it – or rather, something that does its job - is in fact both present and active in ordinary humans. Yours has been enlarged, however, in order to allow you to read the unconscious signals given off by others. I hope there hasn’t been any trouble?”

The bastard. He knew from my tone that there was trouble, just like I knew from the curl in his smile – and his smell, I realised now he’d explained the rationale – that there was no way he’d admit it. Oddly, now that I knew why it had been done, it seemed to be a little easier to detach myself from the sensations each whiff caused, dissect them into... call them grounded intuitions. For instance, now I knew that neither the Professor nor Crenshaw was entirely sure who was the boss, and some deep part of me wanted to sit back and wait to see who had sharper teeth, so I could claim to have supported him all along. I bit down on the instinct the way my hindbrain expected the Professor to bite down on the back of Crenshaw’s neck.

It’ll take a while to get used to, I think. It’s like having a sledgehammer and a tack. Since there’s no hope of getting a smaller hammer, sooner or later our brains will learn to work with bigger nails.” James grinned at Alex and I as we glared at him. It’s so easy to look at James and think of him as a big stupid farmer’s son, so I understood her consternation. I was just pissed that he was stealing my thunder.

Well, it’s nice to see that the three of you are all on the same page,” the Professor said, smiling with genuine happiness, though whether at our ability to figure things out or at the success of his treatment I couldn’t say. “Now, what do you say to getting scientific about things?”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Removing the catheter was painful and embarrassing and I don’t want to go into it.