“For a while you made me really self-conscious,” Anita whispered as they made their way through a thick layer of brush. “I’d seen you track a man by the distinct tang of his body odor for thirty miles. I couldn’t imagine hygiene that would be good enough for you.”
“I remember that,” Mai said. “And I remember stopping you.”
“You did,” Anita said, nodding. “You told me the smell of blood from scrubbing away so much of my skin was distracting. You kind of sort of implied it drove you crazy, like you were part Great White or something. In the moment, I had to fight a laugh, because I was about 85% certain you were joking… but then there was a 13% chance you meant it, whether or not it was actually true.”
“That doesn’t add up to 100%,” Rox noted from behind them.
“No,” Anita agreed. “The rest was the possibility she was just sleep-deprived or doped up. They really weren’t all that judicious with the pharmaceuticals. Especially not with her. If she started to get loopy, her body would take over and start dismantling whatever they put in her system. On a good day the techs could ride that line and keep her fuzzy. On a bad day they’d pump her full of enough tranqs to kill a whole herd of tatankas.”
“The trucks?” Rox asked.
“I hate the young,” Mai said.
“Yeah, well at least you still get to look and feel vital. I have to hate the young and feel like I’m sixty.”
“You aren’t?” Mayumi and Rox asked at the same time.
“I hate the young-looking just as much,” Anita amended.
Mayumi held up her hand, and her voice became an even quieter whisper. “There’s the entrance. Guard’s been here for hours.”
Through the brush they could see a small concrete building carved into the side of a stone outcropping, noticeable only because of the man in black paramilitary gear standing out front of it and the squared corners where the concrete met the rock. “How…” Rox started.
Mayumi glared at her. “The surrounding air reeks of his bad breath. And his cologne. It’s a cheap Old Spice knock-off; offensively spiced. From the build-up, given that the wind is pretty mild tonight, he’s been patrolling around this area for hours to waft that much of his stink through the air.”
“You see why I got all crazy about hygiene?” Anita asked.
“Yeah,” Rox said. “I’m beginning to wonder if I put on deodorant this morning, just as a first point of self-consciousness.”
“Not enough,” Mayumi said, “but that’s fine. All of you stink. The human baseline is stink. And most of the time, I just tell my nose to be less acute so I don’t have to drown in it.”
“I guess it makes sense you could do that,” Anita said.” Much more sense than either of us trying to Howard Hughes our way to a good smell.”
“It’s pretty much not possible. Even most smells that are pleasant to the human nose are cloying to mine. It’s like having someone spritz perfume directly up my nose.”
“And the kid’s smell?” Rox asked.
“Weaker. But it ends here. We’re probably lucky, that he’s a pretty rank kid, and that the weather’s been mild, or there might not have been a trace of him.”
“Crap,” Rox said. “That means we need to break in there. Which means I should get in touch with Laren, and see if she can get us any intel on what’s behind that ominous-looking metal door. Could be we need a plan. Might even need to wait for the rest of our team to show.”
“No,” Mayumi said tensely, overlapping with Anita.
“We’re not waiting.”
“Yeah,” Rox said. “I kind of figured you’d both say that. So let me make a phone call, and see what, if anything, we can do to make it so we’re not charging in there completely blind.”
“Isn’t blind luck your thing?”
“I don’t doubt that I will walk out of there relatively unscathed. But it’s not a blanket immunity for everyone who shared a bagel with me. The two of you could take a bullet two steps in; hell, my ability sometimes makes that more likely, if the bullets ricochet away from me. So we’ve got to be smart.”
“I’m not worried,” Mayumi said. “I’m very difficult to kill. And I don’t think either of us would miss her all that much,” she said, nodding towards Anita.
“As the most likely woman to die in a fool-hardy, rushed plan, I’m all for us getting our ducks in a row,” Anita said. “Or for just sending Mayumi in to sort shit out.”
“Now where have I heard that one before,” Mai said, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s not my fault you’re virtually indestructible,” Anita said with a shrug. “If I could shrug off gunshot wounds, regrow limbs and just generally not be bothered by getting the hell kicked out of me, I’d volunteer to go in alone.”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“I wouldn’t, but I am the kind of person who would claim that as a defense mechanism.”
“Okay. I’m making an executive decision,” Rox said, taking out her phone. “I’m calling Laren. You two don’t kill each other until I’m off the phone.”
“Does that mean we can’t start fighting while she’s on the phone, or just no killing blows until then?” Anita asked. “Don’t tempt me,” Mayumi said.