“Hey, Will, you awake again yet?” James obviously wasn’t feeling as lethargic as I was. “Take a look at the lights.” I looked up at the fluorescent tubes.
Imagine the deepest purple you’ve ever seen. Not the darkest, because this was blazing quite brightly, superimposed on the familiar white glare of the tubes, but a rich, deep purple, far beyond anything you’ve ever seen before. Much more than violet. Ultraviolet.
“Holy crap,” Alex said, from my other side. “What is that?”
“Fluorescent lights are called that because the tubes are coated on the inside with fluorescent stuff, which converts the UV light they make into white light. We’re seeing the UV that gets through.”
“I thought Will was the facts guy.”
“I usually handle trivia,” I explained, “but James aced physics and electronics.”
“So… it worked? We’re… changed? Modified? What’s the right word?”
“I like modified,” I told her. “It seems kind of specific, rather than wishy-washy like ‘changed’.1 And yeah, it seems like it’s worked, though we should check out the other abilities we were supposed to get first chance we can.” My words were followed by a few moments of silence, then the sounds of sniffing from the other sides of the curtains. Obviously the other two had both decided to test our olfactory senses next. I drew a deep breath through my nostrils, trying to catch up. New colours were nothing. This was intense.
I could smell the dew on the grass outside; apparently it was morning, but not too early, because the asphalt on the parade ground across the way from the warehouse was beginning to heat up, and the food smells from the mess hall were beginning to get a little stale. All around was the smell of sweat and canvas; from one end of the camp drifted reeking clouds of gunpowder I hadn’t even noticed two weeks before. Closer, stronger, I could smell ozone and a plastic sort of smell from the machine in the main room of the warehouse, and this room was a roil of disinfectant and less savoury hints, which hit my new nose like a sledgehammer covered in sewage. And the people… we don’t really notice that people smell. I don’t mean the armpits. It’s hard to ignore the armpits. But people have a smell, too, all their own, completely ignored by our tiny little scent organs. Now, for the first time, I was really aware of it. James, to my right, smelled earthy and imposing. Somehow I knew that was the smell of someone my age. I mean, I already knew James was my age, it would have been hard to be confused about that. But the smell underlined it twice and drew a couple of arrows pointing to it: male, about my age, prime physical condition, bulkier than I was without being fat. And to my left… it was maddening. Alex had a scent like herbal tea, and a hint of something like petroleum, but it was the other things in her scent that were driving me wild, little markers carrying information into my nostrils. Female, my age, perfect physical condition, good genetic compatibility, two weeks from oestrus and receptive to mating. I knew all that, knew it, and something powerful and ugly and ancient reached up through my torso, grabbed me by the throat and screamed. I stopped sniffing, guilt flooding through me. I could hear James panting through his mouth. Maybe this wasn’t going to be all joyful discovery. On top of everything else, my catheter was suddenly really uncomfortable.
1Modified was always my first choice to describe our condition after it occurred, but to name the event itself I must side with popular opinion, which calls it the Change, because I can’t think of anything else that underlines just how simple, yet powerful, an effect it had on… everything, I guess.