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Kincaid’s eyebrows crawled for his hairline. “Smell? As in a scent?”


She nodded. “It was the same way I figured out that Harlan was there. Harlan has … had a certain scent I recognized.”


“You saying Yeager has a scent? You smell him?”


“Well, when you say it like that, it sounds like he’s got BO, but … yeah. Everyone has a scent. Some are more”—she searched for the word—“concentrated than other people. A lot of the times I think what I smell is how they feel.” She explained about her sudden flashes of memory. “Like I associate the scent with a memory that gives me a certain feeling, and then I know what they’re feeling. It doesn’t always work, because there are some things I just can’t put a name to. Like … you know, a squirrel smell is a squirrel smell.”


“Do I got one?”


“Yeah. You smell like leather and”—she thought about it—“baby powder.”


“Well, leather’s good. If I weren’t such a manly man, I might have trouble with baby powder, though.” He grinned. “What about the Rev?”


“Opaque. Like really dense fog, or, you know, how cloudy glass has that cold smell. I couldn’t really get a read on him, and then when I guessed about his, you know, touch, I could tell he was surprised because it was like something suddenly opened up and then I smelled rain. I think that means it was raining when it happened for him.”


“That,” said Kincaid, “is true. It was raining here that day. The glass smell is interesting, too. What do you make of it?”


“I think he was staring out of a window.”


A smile flirted with Kincaid’s mouth. “Yeah, that’s true, too.”


“How do you know?”


“Because I was sitting next to him when it happened.”


“Where?”


“Where we were living, along with all the other Awakened,” Kincaid said. “In the Alzheimer’s wing of the hospice.”


53


Alex gaped. “You were a patient? You had Alzheimer’s?”


“Yeah. Why do you think we’re called the Awakened? I wasn’t terminal, but I was close. Stage six. Believe me, no one was more surprised than me to wake up in diapers. Thank God, I was dry.”


“How can you joke about something like that?” All she could think of was Kincaid, crapping in his pants and drooling. “I don’t think that’s very funny.”


Kincaid hunched his shoulders in a shrug. “At my age? You learn not to take things so seriously. Anyway, I woke up in front of the picture window strapped to a wheelchair, and the tech—young fella, maybe thirty—he’s dead as a doornail. Try working your way out of those straps without help. Those things are geriatric straitjackets. Take a Houdini to get out of one. Near about strangled myself.” He looked at her and laughed. “You know, you don’t shut that mouth of yours, you’re going to be catching flies.”


“How many of you are there?”


“Awakened? Just five, including me and the Rev.”


“So, do you … can you sense …?”


“Nope. I’m just me. Besides the Rev, there’s only one other person has something similar. Hears stuff a long way off, kind of like a bat, I guess, but with nuance, which can come in handy. You’re the only one can sense them, though. You’re like the dogs that way, when they catch a whiff of the Changed.” He favored her with that one-eyed squint. “But you, they see you as a friend. More than that, they’ll protect you. So you must have changed another way, too. Pheromones, probably.”


The word was familiar. Something from biology … “What are those?”


“Chemicals made by the body that produce certain odors that trigger certain responses. As far as I know, all animals make them. So do a lot of insects. That’s how bees and ants communicate, for example.” Kincaid’s lips turned in a regretful grin. “I always thought my wife smelled like lilies. After she died, I hung on to her clothes for the longest time. Walking into her closet was like getting wrapped up in a hug.”


She remembered how Tom had smelled, that complex spice that made her dizzy and hungry for his touch, and a hollow ache that she recognized as grief settled in her chest.


Kincaid saw the look on her face, and misinterpreted. “Thanks, kiddo. You never quite get over losing someone you love, but I’m okay.” He squeezed her shoulder. “Now, there’s nothing we can do about the dogs deciding you’re their new best friend, but we can spin the Harlan thing pretty easy. We’ll just say you recognized him, okay? The Rev is right about keeping this super-smell thing under wraps. Don’t even tell Chris.”


“Don’t worry about that.” She wasn’t tempted to tell Chris anything. That Kincaid assumed she might confide in him was a little alarming. Maybe they’re already seeing us as a couple. Maybe that’s why Jess badgered him into being my escort when he wanted to bail. “Would people really try to hurt me?”


“It’s a possibility. They might think you got some agenda. This super-sense-of-smell thing you got going … it’s a blessing and a curse. Good for us because you might catch kids the dogs don’t—and they have missed a few.”


A vision of children being paraded past for her inspection floated into her mind. “I don’t want to do that.”


Kincaid gave her a hard look. “You’re a smart girl, so don’t make me spell this out for you. We need to use every advantage we got—and that includes you. But that’s also where it could be a problem, because then it’s your word against theirs. You can’t see or touch a smell.”


“You guys always believe Yeager.”


“Yeager’s one of the Five Families. He’s head of the Council now.”


Yeah, now … but she couldn’t believe they’d let some demented guy decide policy. So who had called the shots before Yeager Awakened? “I wouldn’t lie.”


“You know that, and I know that. Yeager and the Council would know, but why would regular folks trust you? If what you can do gets out, then somebody else just might decide they’ve got a super-sense, too. In other words, they would lie. Even with the Council and the Rev to say otherwise, things could get pretty nasty. See what I’m saying? We could have our little version of the Salem Witch Trials, and we got no time for that kind of crap.”


She had never considered this, but she could see the logic. In school, your reputation could rest on a rumor. “Okay.”


“Good. Now if you do sense something off, you tell me or the Rev, period. You got that?”


And not any of the other Council members … That was interesting. “What are you going to do if someone else pops up with a super-sense?”


“We’ll deal with it then. I don’t think it’s as common as all that, anyway.” That one-eyed squint again. “You got any ideas why this might have happened to you?”


She felt a small flutter of alarm. “No.” When he said nothing, she added, “Really.”


“Mmm.” Kincaid’s mouth screwed to a pucker. “You know, I’m not like Yeager, but I do believe that’s the first lie you’ve told me, Alex, and here’s why. All the survivors—us older people—our brains are different even from people who are in their forties, fifties. Sleep patterns are way different, for one; we don’t dream as much as younger people.”


She thought about Tom and his broken sleep, as well as her monster and that nightmare. “Would it only be sleep then? Dreams?”


“A magic bullet? No, probably a combination of things that tip the balance. Older people’s brains just aren’t as spry as they used to be. Our brains don’t make as many neurochemicals. Now, that’s not uniform; there are some very sharp ninety-year-olds. I knew one, in fact, but the hell of it is, he died right away, too. Like he was


forty instead of ninety.”


“Meaning what?”


“Well, let’s just think about it for a second. This … Zap, as you call it, was a whole bunch of high-intensity EMPs, right? Well, what are those but electrical discharges, and what is the brain but an organ that relies on what is, in essence, electricity to function? A brain is like a hive of bees; all the cells have to be firing in the right order, or you’ve got chaos: a bunch of bees going every which way and nothing getting done.”


She thought she saw where he was going. “So if you zap the brain with enough of a charge, you’d create chaos? Release a flood of neurochemicals? Why would that matter?”


“Alex, what do you think a seizure is? It’s that chaos thing again: a bunch of brain cells firing in an uncoordinated manner. Plus, seizures can kill you. The brain can seize up and stop working, and the person will die. So what I’m thinking is that older people, whose brains already don’t work as well as when they were younger, were protected. They got knocked for a loop when the Zap hit, but they didn’t die. Those of us who were bad off—the Awakened—our brains were like little raisins. So, for us, the Zap kind of woke us up, primed our brains to make chemicals we’d been missing. I think it’s probably more complicated than that, but you get the general idea.”


She did, but that still didn’t answer why Tom had lived. Or her—unless she was right about the monster having done enough damage to save her. “But then what about kids?”


“Don’t know. Kids’ brains aren’t set in stone. They’re still growing and developing. I know for a fact that kids can survive brain injuries, like cold-water drownings, that would kill or cripple an adult. The older you get, the less able your brain is to absorb an injury and adapt. I guess there’s just a natural cutoff where the injury gets to be too much for the brain to handle. In the context of the Zap, that means the majority of adults couldn’t absorb the trauma and they flat-out died.”

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