The Smell of Dangerous Jasmine
by Terry Bramlett
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“Many of you have probed the alien intelligence that resides on this planet,” Faith said. Scanning the hall, she realized that the Muñoz family was not present. She sent a thought toward Alicia and found her. Nothing seemed amiss, and she continued. “As far as I can tell, the probing has ended as I requested. Thank you.”
“Sister Faith?” Jedidiah Stamps stood, not quite looking at Faith. Jedidiah showed latent Gifts, but not to the point that he was an adept. “I was out there when Alicia touched that thing. The air wavered as it ran off, but I did not see anything.” He cleared his throat and made eye contact. “What was it?”
Faith felt his fear, multiplied by the number of people in the room. Her fear broke through her defenses and people shifted in their seats, uncomfortable with what they felt. Faith bottled the emotion, keeping it within her. “I do not know, Jedidiah. I intend to find out. Could this be an intelligent creature from this planet, one we’ve never met?”
“It is possible, Sister,” Rico Buntz said, standing as he continued. “We’ve studied this planet’s biology for the last eighty years. There are no indications that intelligent life ever evolved here.” He shrugged. “But I can’t say that categorically, since we live on a small portion of a large planet.”
The doors in the back of the hall flew open. Moniquita Muñoz ran into the room. Panic forced its way past Faith’s defenses. “Has anyone seen Alicia?” Moniquita yelled. “We could not find her when we were getting ready to leave for the meeting.” Everyone turned to Faith. She closed her eyes and probed for Alicia.
Faith, Alicia responded. I am fine. I wanted to check on him though. I think we’ve hurt him. Guilt and hurt filtered through the communication.
Where are you, child? Your mother is worried sick. Faith sent a measure of Moniquita’s fear.
Alicia returned the fear with much more of her own. Faith heard a scream. The Council Hall murmured with surprise as the scream transmitted to all Gifted enough to hear. Moniquita stared for a moment then wailed. Alicia?
For a moment, Faith saw a shape holding Alicia around the waist, dragging her toward a shimmering. She felt air rush around her and felt the wooden chair on which she sat. Alicia?
He grabbed me. Alicia screamed again.
Rognin paced. Each time a human touched his mind, he ran to the cleansing baths. The little girl stayed still in the corner, watching.
“I came to apologize,” she said through the translator. Water streamed from her eyes. “Are you going to let me go? I want to go home.”
Rognin looked at her as he cleansed himself of human influences. Alicia’s smell attacked his nostrils, overcoming the jasmine. Why did I bring her in here? She stared, but did not intrude on his mind. She had walked to his lab and studied his invisible shape. How did she know? Humans are dangerous for Dalvarian society. They would know everything.
The tendrils of contact reached inside his head and he yelled. “What do you want of me?”
The maddening intrusion lasted for a moment then dissipated, followed by another and another. The alien thoughts flooded him, corrupted him. Anger, fear, and outrage poured into his mind with each touch. The human smell permeated his body. The cleansing baths could not abrogate the smell and Rognin’s sense of invasion.
“I think they want me,” Alicia said. She frowned. “Does it hurt you when we probe inside your mind?”
Rognin scrubbed his face. The salt water scraped his skin, leaving it raw to the water and the touch. The unclean creatures could not be washed away. We must destroy the whole planet and trace them back to their home world, he thought. Humans cannot be allowed to propagate through the galaxy. Rognin shuddered at the thought of another species knowing all there was to know about Dalvarian culture. Some things should remain secret.
He glared at Alicia. “It is unclean to associate with other creatures,” Rognin said. “You have touched me and now the other humans continue to touch me. Your smell permeates my room, my mind.”
Alicia walked to the tub. “What can I do to help?”
Rognin screamed and she backed away. Rognin took a deep breath blowing the excess air out of the atrophied gills. “You cannot help. I must report this to the Council. They will respond appropriately.”
“You’re bleeding.” Alicia turned and walked back to the corner. She studied the walls but paid attention to the monitors and the translator.
Blood dripped into his eyes. Rognin wiped it away watching her. He eased out of the tub and stood over the hot-air vent, which dried his skin in seconds. On the monitor, humans gathered in groups walking through the woods and meadows.
He watched the group in this area. How could he lead them away from the lab? One human inside was more than he intended. He watched the monitor and gasped in horror. The human groups gathered near his lab and glanced up the hill. They climbed, led by the one called Sister Faith.
“I told them where I am,” Alicia said. “Let me go and I will tell them to leave you alone.”
Danger filled Rognin’s nostrils. He puffed through his gills and eyed the cleansing baths but refused to dive into the tub again. Alicia smiled. He knew she must die. Rognin knew humans could not be allowed to continue. An alien presence reached into his mind. Rognin screamed his outrage, but the presence would not leave.
“Sister Faith, he will not understand without the translator,” Alicia said. “You must come inside.” Though Alicia spoke aloud, Rognin felt the girl’s intrusion in his mind. He ran to the cleansing baths.
Faith stopped. A shimmer dominated the hill. She wondered why she had not noticed the effect before now. Uneasiness moved through the colonists as Faith studied the invisible structure. She could see the edges clearly offset from the background. Stealth technology was not new, but she had never seen it used. Her uneasiness increased. Her skin crawled with the sensation.
“Subsonics,” someone said. Faith saw heads nodding in agreement. That would explain why no one stayed in this area. Could the alien use the subsonics as a weapon? Faith pondered the question. If he could, she reasoned that it would have already been done. About twenty colonists probed the outside of the structure, closing their eyes, mapping it in their minds.
Moniquita ran to Faith and fell to the ground. Her eyes pleaded: Save my daughter, Holy One.
Faith held out her hand, helping the stricken mother to her feet. “I am no more holy than you, Moniquita,” she said. “My Gift is stronger. That is all.” Faith smiled. “Alicia is unhurt, though scared. We will get her back.”
Moniquita buried her face in Faith’s shoulder, shaking with tears. Faith sent a wave of calm through her and the woman relaxed. Faith caught Broderick’s eye and nodded. He led Moniquita to the shade of a nearby tree.
“I think I’ve found a door,” Sihdra yelled. A number of people ran to the area and pushed. After a moment they stopped. “Faith, I think our tractors can pull this thing open.”
Faith frowned. Forcing their way inside could endanger Alicia. This creature was more frightened than the child, and he was alone. “Send for the equipment, but do not use it until I give the order.” Sihdra nodded. Bellicek led the group running for the tractors.
“What are going to do, my dear?” Eduardo stood, watching her. She saw the concern on his face. “You’re going in there, aren’t you?”
Faith caressed Eduardo’s face. “Yes dear, but not in the way you think.” She faced the assembled colonists. They stretched down the hillside toward the town. She estimated that ninety percent of the population showed for the emergency meeting. A few had left to tend to children and chores, but they returned as soon as possible. The ones not at the meeting came when they heard the news. Expectancy rose from the crowd.
Faith cleared her throat. “Adepts, please refrain from probing the alien. I need a few minutes to get ready, so that I can attempt communication. Any thoughts and energy you can send me would be appreciated.”
She walked down the hill, stopping under a tree near Moniquita. Faith smiled at Eduardo as he clasped her hand. Sihdra sat beside her. Part of the crowd formed a circle around Faith and she could feel their protective influence. Most would die to save her. Faith cleared the emotions from her mind and concentrated.
Her mind floated inside the structure and she saw Alicia standing in a corner opposite the alien. Alicia appeared intent on the alien. The alien stood rigid, guarding against another attack on his mind. The room held monitors and computers, much different from Earth technology, but their basic function remained the same. In another corner, a large silver tub foamed with warm salt water. Yellow light filtered down from bulbs reminiscent of fluorescence. Faith circled to the room’s center. Alicia looked up.
Sister Faith? Is that you?
Hush, child! I am here. She sent a tentative message to the alien. The screaming commenced. A calm wave left Faith’s consciousness and settled over the alien.
“What is your name?”
The alien babbled in an unknown tongue, but a speaker translated the words. “Get out of my head,” the alien screamed. “Unclean. Unclean.”
Faith pulled away and studied the alien. His gray skin held a tinge of blue and a smattering of white salt. White crust formed around openings in the neck. Arms flailed in reaction to her message. He was about Eduardo’s height, but slender and muscular. This creature could be a fierce warrior if provoked. And Faith did not wish to provoke him.
“That was Faith,” Alicia said. The translator translated. “She wants to know your name.”
The alien glanced around the room. Faith felt the confusion, but resisted the urge to probe further. The alien sighed and said, “Rognin.”
Alicia, tell Rognin that we mean him no harm, Faith said, waiting for the translator. We would like to be friends.
“We cannot be friends,” Rognin said. Faith thought she heard sadness in the voice, but was unsure. Reading alien emotions might backfire. “Dalvaria must be kept secret at all costs.”
“What does ‘all costs’ mean?” Alicia supplied the question from Faith.
Rognin stared at Alicia. “You touched me, therefore you must die. Your people know me. They must die and all those like them. All species but one are unclean. No one can know Dalvaria but Dalvarians.”
Alicia cried as Faith digested his words. Rognin nodded and ran toward Alicia, who screamed. Faith’s heart skipped as she watched the Dalvarian reach for the child. Faith drew on the energy of the adepts and latents outside the structure. “No!” she screamed, realizing that her voice became audible in the room. She ran to Alicia and placed herself between Rognin and the little girl. “Stand back!” The force of the words hit Rognin, and he doubled as if she punched him in the midsection. He staggered to the cleansing baths and dove; his head swallowed by the water. Faith felt a hand on her back.
“Sister Faith,” Alicia said, her voice awed. “How did you get inside?”
She raised a hand to her face. It was her hand. She caught her reflection in the metal of the wall. Faith saw her face. “I don’t know, Alicia. I think it had to do with protecting you and help from the energy of the others.”
She had no time to wonder further about the phenomenon. She sent a command to the other adepts to stay out of her mind and the mind of the alien. Faith smelled the heavy scent of jasmine permeating the lab.
Rognin raised his head from the cleansing baths and spewed water from the gills. “What do you want of me?”
“I want you to let us leave,” Faith said. Tractors roared in the distance. She sent a message to Sihdra telling her to hold off on the equipment but to be ready. She concentrated on Rognin. “That is the sound of our machines coming to tear this door apart and get us out.”
“If they tear down the door, then I will kill you both and destroy the lab even though I must die in the effort. The result would be the same. The Council will know I was discovered.”
Faith heard the truth. Rognin had no reason to lie anymore. The Dalvarian was outnumbered and outminded.
“Why are humans unclean?” Faith tried another line of attack. “Is it that we smell dangerous?”
“You reach into my mind,” Rognin said. “All of our secrets are yours. That is intolerable. The Council will destroy this planet and trace your species to the source. Dalvarians must be kept secret.” Rognin slapped the edge of the tub, splashing water to the floor.
Faith sent a wave of calm and Rognin relaxed. She had an inkling of an idea. “Rognin, do you really want to kill Alicia and me?”
Rognin wheezed through the gills. “I must. You have seen me. She has touched me. You must both die.”
Faith added uncertainty to the calming wave. Since the calmness worked, she decided to try other influences. Rognin emoted uncertainty with his pronouncement of their death sentence. Am I reading this alien correctly? Faith shook her head, fighting off her own uncertainty.
“Have you ever killed anything, Rognin? Have you watched the life flow from a creature that you murdered with your own hands?” Faith increased the uncertainty, but kept the wave of calm constant. She had to tune his emotions, but also keep his emotions in check, a delicate task. When she spoke, she projected her presence into his mind, a very light touch. Rognin withdrew from her, but the calmness kept him from exploding. “Can you kill me while I share your mind?”
“Unclean,” Rognin whispered. “Unclean.”
Faith knew he had never killed. His mind recoiled from the suggestion of murder though he might still kill Alicia and Faith. It would be his duty after all. Faith probed deeper into the alien mind, finding its logical patterns and thoughts unfathomable. But maybe they were malleable. She increased the calmness and reduced the uncertainty in Rognin’s mind. She implanted the soft scent of jasmine and linked it with the scent of humans.
“What is that smell?” Rognin asked the question, rising up in the cleansing baths. His nostrils enlarged to take in the fragrance. “Jasmine? It’s coming from you,” he said, surprise evident in the words.
“You find the smell of jasmine pleasing, do you not?” Faith asked as she implanted other tendencies in Rognin and his thoughts of humans. Faith worked by instinct, touch, and sense. The tricky part would come later if she learned to open him to other suggestions that could be planted deeper in his mind.
“You are not unclean?” Rognin asked.
Faith smiled. This could work.
Hours later, Faith and Alicia walked through an opening created by Rognin. Eduardo grabbed her and as Faith hugged her husband, she smiled at the joyful reunion of Alicia and Moniquita and Broderick Muñoz.
“Yes, Sister Faith.”
“Start sending Alicia to me every other day. It is time she expanded her gifts.”
A hint of jasmine lingered in Rognin’s mind. His three years studying the humans ended as quietly as it had begun. Dizziness touched him for a moment, but passed. Commander Rostoff sat at a desk, going over the report. Rognin sniffed and the jasmine remained, a pleasant smell that reminded him of the creatures he had left earlier that day. Rostoff looked up and puffed air from the white gills.
“They never knew about your surveillance,” Rostoff said. “Good job, Rognin. It is obvious they did not evolve on that planet. How did they get there?”
“They were deposited by other members of their species,” Rognin answered. “It seems their religion did not fit the mold of Earth, their home planet, and the authorities just sent them off to live or die. They received a planet well suited to the agrarian society they have built and they have machines to help with survival, but they have no contact with their home planet.”
Rostoff stood. “No need to go into the whole report, Rognin. You have earned the rest and trip back to Dalvaria. Enjoy and rest. Good job.” Rostoff returned to other items on the desk as Rognin walked out of the room.
Rognin ate fresh Dalvarian food for the first time in three years, reveling in the smells of his own species. Occasional whiffs of estrus caught his nose, but he concentrated on the food. The human smell of jasmine stayed with him through the meal and as he walked to his cabin. A female walked into the hall, estrus lingered around her. Rognin sniffed.
“You are Rognin, yes?” Rognin nodded. The jasmine scent faded from his nostrils as she said, “Will you share cleansing?” Rognin blew air out of the gills and followed her into the room. In the back of his mind, a fleeting thought of the humans nagged him. A hint of danger edged into his mind, but the jasmine buried Rognin’s unease.
Copyright © 2006 by Terry Bramlett