The Smell of Dangerous Jasmine
by Terry Bramlett
part 1 of 2
The little girl looked straight at Rognin. The Dalvarian scientist froze to eliminate any shimmering from the mirrored projections. His mouth opened in astonishment as the small human walked toward him, stopped, and stared. She should have been staring past him, through him to the scenery behind supplied by the cameras in his suit, but she knew he was there.
“Alicia, lunch is ready dear,” the girl’s mother called.
“Yes, Momma,” Alicia said, still staring. “I know you’re there.” She turned and walked back to the group of people gathered at the edge of the forest.
Rognin gasped, not realizing he had held his breath even though the humans should not be able to see or hear him through the dampener. He stared at the little girl, knowing she had seen him. He should have left, but Rognin needed to know more.
The humans sat on a blanket, eating the food they brought to the hillside. The lake beyond shimmered in greens and blues, making Rognin long for home. He wanted to dive into the lake and sit at the lake’s bottom, holding his breath, using his yellowed gills in imitation of his ancestors. He found the water with its myriad colors and movement comforting; it was different from his study of the humans, who surprised him at every turn.
He had decided that humans were technological primitives, an agrarian society with no pretense of science. But when the first human supply ship arrived, Rognin reevaluated the aliens’ technical acumen. These humans lived in this society by choice, not necessity. The thought unnerved him.
He felt a stare and looked toward the little girl. She smiled when he made eye contact. I want to know you, whatever you are, said a voice in Rognin’s head. He gasped and heard the little girl laugh.
Turning, he loped away from the hillside toward the lab. He felt violated. The little girl’s smell lingered in his nostrils. All aliens, including humans, were unclean, but Rognin recognized another odor. Humans smelled dangerous. The cleansing bath would last twice as long as usual tonight.
Faith McCann glared at the Muñoz girl, tempering her agitation with her fifty-three year old memory of being ten and the pressures of the Gifts exploding in the little girl’s mind, the pressures of being one in ten million. Alicia Muñoz probed Faith’s mind for weakness, any way to break past the defenses. Alicia, be still, Faith threw the thought at the child, delivering the rebuke with the psychic equivalent of a ruler across the palm, without the pain. Alicia huffed, bringing a smile to Faith’s face. Moniquita Muñoz put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. She tightened her grip as Alicia squirmed.
“Holy Sister? Did you hear me?”
Faith ignored the girl’s anger and turned to Broderick Muñoz. “I am sorry, Broderick,” she said, smiling. No one could resist Faith’s smile, which brightened her face, dropping fifteen years from her appearance. “Please say again, as I was woolgathering and I have few sheep left.”
Broderick glanced at Alicia, then back to Faith. “I understand, Holy Sister,” he said. “If we survive the precocious years, then we have the young adult who thinks she knows everything.”
Faith nodded. Broderick was no fool. He knew his daughter would take Faith’s position. The colony of ten thousand on the planet Rhine held two Holy Sisters and several thousand almost-awake adepts. This is why Father formed the Rhine colony, she thought. He wanted a place where his daughter could grow into her Gifts without the damnation of Earth-based society, so he gathered as many adepts as he could and started Rhine.
“As I was saying, Sister,” Broderick continued. “Alicia said that an entity of some type observed us at the picnic. I saw nothing and felt nothing. More importantly, neither did my wife, an adept herself, so I do not know what to make of the child’s claim. I decided to bring her to you.” Broderick finished and bowed his head. He returned to his seat, grabbing Alicia’s hand.
I’ve felt something myself in the last year or two, Faith thought. Nothing definite, just a feeling of being watched. She looked at Alicia who had lost interest in getting inside Faith’s head. The little girl studied an insect, trying to influence the bug’s path as it crawled along the ceiling.
Faith probed her, finding more resistance than she expected in the child, but managed to slip through unnoticed. She searched for memories of the entity. Jumbled images floated in Alicia’s mind, but nothing concrete. Faith wondered if a restless spirit of the original colonials walked the hill.
The bug dropped onto the desk in front of Faith, breaking her contact with the child. She raised an eyebrow at Alicia who smiled. Faith frowned. The little bugger caught me in her head, Faith thought.
She brushed the insect from the table and cleared her throat. Twenty people gathered in the meeting room, a fact that bothered Faith. More people should be interested in this, but most of the colonists wanted to enjoy the simple life afforded them on Rhine. Nothing threatened the Rhine colony, and that led to apathy. She sighed.
“We must remember that the Gifted are first human, then Gifted,” Faith said, stopping to let her words sink in to the crowd. “As a result, Alicia may have felt the presence of an entity, which would be one more step on her path toward her Gift, but we must remember that she still possesses the imagination of a ten-year old child.”
Alicia rolled her eyes. “I saw what I saw,” Alicia said. “I didn’t make it up. Honest.”
A shadowy movement left the back of the room and exited through the door. See, I told you, Alicia projected to Faith. I knew he was here. Didn’t you, Sister Faith? Faith stared at Alicia who turned her attention to another bug on the ceiling.
Relief flooded Rognin, knowing that no one believed Alicia Muñoz. We would have destroyed this entire world because one little girl saw me when she should not have, he thought. Xenophobia was one thing, but mass execution? We’ve done it before. Another species had learned of Dalvaria, well before Rognin was born. The Planetary Council destroyed that world to keep Dalvarians hidden and private. Rognin nodded. They would kill this one, he thought. And they would trace this infestation to its root and exterminate them at the source.
Eons of subjugation at the hands of the Aether had left little trust in Dalvarian society. Aliens were to be avoided at all costs, but how can you avoid something if you do not know it is there? Rognin filled with pride at being one of the few who safeguarded Dalvaria from the unclean masses of the galaxy.
A thick floral odor wafted into his nostrils, covering the stench of the humans on the planet. The humans called the flower jasmine, though he had heard the term Carolina Jessamine. It covered the scent of humanity. Fragrances held special import to Rognin and his keen Dalvarian nose.
He watched the monitors, especially looking for Alicia or Faith, the old woman at the town meeting; the one they called “Sister.” Rognin had not studied her as closely as others. For the most part, he studied those on the periphery of the village. They were more accessible.
A group of humans appeared on his monitors walking toward the lake carrying baskets. Their smell crept into his mind, but he fought down fear and revulsion. Rognin saw Alicia. He shuddered as she looked into the camera and smiled.
He recognized the smell of danger. The odor lingered in his nose, and not even the jasmine covered the scent. “How does she do that?” he asked the screen. He puffed, sighing though the opening in his neck, remnants of gills.
Rognin looked at the suit and then back to Alicia. Maybe I’m imagining this, he thought as he reached for the suit. Rognin laughed. And maybe my imagination is more active because of loneliness.
Rognin splashed perfume into the inside of the suit and slid inside. The tight suit chafed his gray-blue scaly skin. Though the suit was hidden to the humans, it allowed air to enter, which brought with it the dangerous smell of humanity. He pressed the switch that hid him from prying eyes — except for those of Alicia Muñoz. He left the lab.
Slowing as he approached the humans, Rognin watched for reactions. Alicia glanced in his direction but was preoccupied with the other children. He sighed in relief. The wind funneled the human scent away. He looked over the gathering and the lake. Humans rarely worked the fields in growing season, spraying the edges of the field two days before tilling the soil. No weeds grew, and the humans used their leisure, enjoying life in a way that Rognin did not understand. At the end of the growing season, everyone helped bring in the crop and process the foods. Two weeks of the year the humans worked.
Rognin frowned at the casualness of their society, their apparent laziness. Every Dalvarian believed in duty and work. Without the two, civilization could not continue. He brought a hand to his face and rubbed at the suit’s irritation of his skin. The danger smell reeked in his nostrils.
He looked up and rose as he saw Alicia walk toward him. Other children followed her. Adults watched, wondering what the Gifted child saw. Rognin stood still, sensing his own fear mingling with Alicia’s odor. He knew what Alicia saw: Alicia saw him.
“He’s right there,” Alicia said, pointing a finger toward Rognin. He stood still, forcing himself to breathe evenly and calmly. Alicia rolled her eyes when the other child did not see. She turned to a little boy near her age. “Ivan, you’re an adept. Do you see him?”
Ivan peered and for a moment, Rognin felt the tendril of a presence in his mind. The danger smell increased but subsided as the presence passed over and through him.
“I see something that’s not quite there, but only for a second, and then I lose it,” Ivan said.
Alicia smiled. “But you felt the presence for a second.”
Rognin saw her triumph. Adults made their way toward the top of the hill.
“Alicia, what is going on?”
Rognin’s nose became overwhelmed with the smell, but if he moved, he might give himself away.
“I’m just showing them the presence, Momma,” Alicia said. She pointed a finger toward Rognin. “He’s standing right there.”
Alicia’s mother looked at her child, and then stared at the spot where Alicia pointed. Rognin cringed as a strong force entered and passed through his mind. The woman gasped and took a step back.
“Get away from there, children,” she said. Rognin saw the children run to their parents. He held his breath as Alicia ignored her mother and walked toward him. “Something’s there. I don’t see it, but I do feel it.”
The little girl ignored the warning. She stopped in front of Rognin and looked into his eyes, smiling. She turned to the adults. “I told you I saw something,” she said. “I wasn’t imagining things, despite what Sister Faith thinks.”
Alicia glanced at Rognin. The danger smell infused his skin. He wanted to run, but found his feet frozen with fear. “He’s right here and I see him as well as I see any of you,” Alicia said as she reached out and patted Rognin’s leg.
Rognin screamed and jumped back. The humans gasped. Rognin stared for a moment, watching Alicia laugh a child’s laugh. He screamed again and turned, running toward his lab. The humans yelled, breaking out of the stunned silence, but no one followed. Rognin felt tendrils of human presence reaching for his mind as he ran. He screamed louder. The little girl has to die, he thought. She touched me. Rognin burst through the door to his lab, diving into the cleansing baths without removing the suit.
Faith sat up in her chair when she first heard the screams. Alien thoughts filled her head, but the screams told of agony. She felt the mind push her away; at first she resisted, and then realized that she was causing the agony.
Faith? She recognized the tendrils of Alicia, picturing the girl with a mischievous smile. Alicia changed the picture to a frown, better indicating her mood. He’s scared, Sister Faith.
The one screaming? Faith responded. She shook her head trying to clear sleep from her mind. I don’t recognize the mind, Alicia. Who is it?
It’s the creature, Alicia thought. Others know about him, now and they are driving him crazy probing him.
Faith caught the frustration and fear in Alicia’s demeanor and knew there was hope for the girl; she showed empathy toward something she did not understand.
You’ve got to make them stop, Sister Faith. I tried, but I can’t keep them out of his mind.
I’ll do what I can. Alicia sent thanks with a dose of apology. Faith opened her eyes. The screaming pierced her defenses, causing her body to stiffen. Human odor created fear. Through alien thoughts and agonizing terror, one word crept through into Faith’s mind: dangerous. She pushed the mind away and locked out the emotions that allowed it to beat itself into her head. She rose from her chair and went to find her husband, Eduardo.
She opened her mind and found him engaged in his woodwork. She smiled. Eduardo had no Gifts and was not even an adept. The screams of the other mind would not affect him. When he worked with wood, Faith could not coerce him to come to her.
She walked toward his shop behind the house. Opening the door, she melted as if she saw him for the first time. Eduardo chipped away at the wood, oblivious to her presence and her affections. His hair had grayed over the years, and his skin sagged on his bones, but Faith saw the young man who had taken her heart with his enthusiasm and charm.
“Eduardo, I need your help,” Faith said.
He jumped at the sound of her voice. Surprise covered his face, morphed to irritation, then to recognition. “Don’t sneak up on me, woman. I’m old enough to get a heart attack or something.”
Faith smiled. “You get so engrossed in your work. I’ve been watching you for a couple of minutes.”
He set the wood on the table with other bits of sculpture and whittling, unfinished works. Scattered around the unfinished pieces, beautiful carvings of local wildlife adorned the shelves. A bust of Faith occupied the premier position in the shop. A much younger Faith, she thought.
“You’re just as pretty today,” he said as he traced her stare to the bust. “And I love you more now than I did when I made that.” Eduardo smiled.
Faith returned the smile. A scream’s echo burst passed her defenses causing her to wince.
Eduardo rushed to her. “Faith, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she said, blocking the waves of agony and fear coursing through the ether. “Just got a reminder of why I came out here. I need you to gather everyone for a town meeting. Compulsory attendance.”
Faith sat in the tub, cleansing her body and mind before the meeting. It would take time to gather all of the colonists and the bath relaxed her, allowing Faith to consider the situation. The screams continued, and she locked the mind out. Faith knew the presence, the mind was not human, but was it local? Or was an interloper watching them?
From the muted emotions edging past her defenses, she understood Alicia’s concern. Faith sent instructions for the adepts to leave the creature alone. Thousands of minds, Gifted, but unfocussed, entering and leaving this creature’s consciousness would drive it mad, if they hadn’t already done permanent harm. She frowned and finished her bath.
At the town hall, Rhine residents stood as Faith took the stage. She looked down the table, nodding to the other members of the Council, Adept Sihdra Rowe and Latent Robert Bellicek. Sihdra’s long black hair flowed over her shoulders showing a hint of gray on the edges. Her copper skin glowed with health.
Bellicek frowned as he studied the crowd, many of which remained standing after Faith entered. Rhine colony had outgrown the hall that held seventy-five hundred, not the ten thousand who appeared for this function.
Faith understood Bellicek’s reaction. Rhine needed to upgrade the colony’s buildings. Growth renders communities useless if they do not keep up with their population’s demands. Faith smiled. He knows why we’re here, she thought. But his first thought is that we are not providing well for the colonists. The colonists made a good choice. Not even an alien keeps him from realizing his responsibility. Faith turned to the crowd. Expectant silence filled the hall.
Copyright © 2006 by Terry Bramlett