15 March 2013

"Just Follow Your Nose"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Then the girl said the guy coming out of the bathroom was her boyfriend. But the old man didn't believe her. So he went over to talk to the bathroom guy. This corpse is twenty-two hours dead. Are you sure I'm not talking too much?"

"Absolutely not," Andy replied before Jake could. "Could you say that part about the corpse again?"

"Sure." Jennifer waved at the vaguely human-shaped lump of charred flesh and bone on the ground. "This man died no more than twenty-three hours ago."

"How can you know that's a man?" Jake asked.

The teenage girl stared at Jake like he was some kind of alien. Which wasn't far from the truth; Jennifer had been raised by Varna'ut for the last ten years, ever since her birth parents—Earth's ambassadors to the Varna'ut homeworld—died in a shuttlecraft accident. Jennifer was physiologically human, but all her habits and behaviors were distinctly Varna'ut.

"I can smell his burned testicles," she said, pointing. "Enzymes from the seminal vesicles have a very distinctive odor. Even more so when they've been oxidized through combustion."

"I don't want to know how she knows that," Jake muttered to Andy.

"Anyway, the old man stops the guy coming out of the bathroom," Jennifer continued, without missing a beat. "Of course, the guy has no idea what's going on. But he recognizes the girl."

"Sorry to interrupt," Andy said, "but would you mind finishing that story later?"

Jennifer blinked. "This isn't interesting to you? You can just say that. Are you trying to be 'tactful?' They told me you might do that. I can tell a different story. There were at least four different attackers in this room. There was also this really hairy man on the flight. His beard came all the way up his cheeks, and he was wearing sunglasses."

"It's not the story," Jake said. "It's the way you keep changing subjects. Go back to the four attackers."

"I thought humans liked to talk," Jennifer said.

"We like to talk about one thing at a time," Jake said.

"Jake's very focused," Andy said. "Could you try... limiting our conversation? Just for a little while?"

Jennifer shrugged. "I'll try it. I can smell the residue from the attackers. You could, too, with proper training. The first thing Varna'ut children learn in school is how to use their noo'usp."

"You're doing it again," Jake said through gritted teeth.

"No," Jennifer said, "we're still talking about scents."


Andy grabbed the sleeve of his partner's jacket. "Can I have a word with you, Jake? Outside? Please excuse us."

"Don't touch anything," Jake said as Andy dragged him out the door.

"Why would I touch anything?" Jennifer asked.

After Andy had shoved Jake around the corner of the building, he said, "What the hell is your problem? She's helping us. Not to mention this will become an interstellar incident if you punch her in the face."

"I'm not going to punch her in the face," Jake said. "Stomach, maybe."

"Hard to believe you're still single."


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