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?”