The Lost Scent of War
By Giles D Hobbs
All rights reserved
Unearthing the Tale
Jenti Tendercase surveyed the underground excavation site in front of her. Her small black, shiny head with its two antennae rising from its peak tracked back and forth through the air, acutely aware of every current as she sampled the ancient scents that swam through the dusty cavern. Her thorax and abdomen, also black and hard-shelled swayed slightly, effortlessly balanced on her six long and jointed limbs.
The cavern rumbled and dust, streaming from the roof cascaded over her head and antennae. She looked upwards, cursing the closeness of the launch pad directly through the rock above her. She had chosen its location herself so there was no one to blame. The jet would already be screaming through the atmosphere of her species original home planet. It had long since lost any atmosphere capable of sustaining life so the shuttle would head for orbit to meet with a cruiser that was stationed there for the benefit of the science team. She did not lead the team, but she was the chief intellectual here, a priestess of the ‘Temple of Rescent’.
She heard the shuttles boosters kick in, giving it the velocity to escape the thin atmosphere. Its pilot would find no interest in the lifeless landscape, having seen it too many times. The vast and still imposing prime tower would now be to their aft, hence out of sight. Whatever their feelings about the view, both the crew and any departing archaeologists from her team would be thankful to get away from the harsh environment where all movement was restricted through airlocks and tunnels full of stale processed air. The process of making this recently discovered cave complex safe to work in had been tortuous. Each attempt at pressurizing a work-zone would reveal yet another small fissure in need of sealing. Yet the perforated nature of these caves was what had provided fresh and cooling subterranean air for her ancestors until the ancient colony had slowly given way to habitats cooled by more sophisticated methods.
The shuttle had possibly already broken from the rarified atmosphere and her staff would not be able to help looking down, she knew this from experience. From orbit this continent was an awe-inspiring sight. The prime towers, one of which she now excavated beneath were widely spaced over the whole landmass and so great was their stature that they were clearly visible, even from space.
She preened her antennae. The clinging dust that had showered down from the roof clouded her senses, overwhelming her with its own rock scent, communicating nothing of interest to her. Leave that for the geologists. She scented to one of her three assistants to bring her a cloth and it approached with intense submissiveness.
“Raise your antennae fool. You know I will not stand for this slave mentality.” The first half of her statement was scent-speech, chosen to ensure obedience in a command of that nature. For the second part she used a series of drumming taps on the cavern floor, heard as vibration in the nerve packed base of the antennae. This was a form of communication that did not immediately communicate their difference in status. It could not influence him directly through his biology, like scent-speech could. It would allow his intellect to respond, and make it possible for him to hear the statement as the reasoned feelings of a colleague and not the unquestionable order of a superior.
The assistant scented back to her, feeling guilty but knowing that she wanted the response in scent speech. Nevertheless it was an act that left him feeling strange. No scent-sensitive worker could ever scent to the ruling classes, not because it was forbidden but simply because the ruling classes no longer had their antennae. It was only possible between himself and Jenti because she was a Priestess in the ‘Temple of the Rescent’, and as such her antennae had been left intact.
“Of course Priestess. Again I am humbled by your respect.”
Jenti dipped her antennae, signaling acceptance of his statement and he moved away.
She had three assistants assigned directly to her. They were all scent-sensitive, yet skilled and educated. Nevertheless they still existed within the strata of society that were nothing more than slaves.
This society of hers was corrupt and evil beyond words. Once, it had been a pure thing, like a complex machine that followed an intensely beautiful natural order. Now, the elite class that ruled the working masses, gave orders, tormented, tortured and destroyed at whim through the power of their most ancient form of communication, scent. The true perversion, and what Jenti despised most was the fact that at one particular historical turning point, which she was only now beginning to understand, the elite class had first been formed and began the most distasteful practice imaginable. They had permanently turned their backs on the one thing that kept their species in touch with each other. Not just in touch but it linked them right down to the biological level. They had started to amputate their own antennae.
Jenti, as a priestess, was an exception. The clergy of the Temple of the Rescent kept their antennae. Those of her class were meant to be responsible for the continued research into the power of scent and as such needed to be able to appreciate it. Daily medication prevented them from falling foul of any orders or commands that they may encounter drifting from an air duct or self replicating through a crowd at any time and place on any one of the colony planets in the system. What they learnt about the nature of scent was naturally abused by the elite and this was not what her kind had set out to achieve. It had started out, and still was, a religious movement but their knowledge was valuable and if they wanted to continue with the freedoms they were granted and to worship as they pleased they had to pay a price.
She drummed her forelimbs on the cavern floor telling her assistants to pack up, again consciously avoiding the use of command scents.
Once more she surveyed the room. It was a vast cavern with a low roof that had fully collapsed at the far end but closer to where she stood the space had filled with easily removed silt. In its day the chamber had clearly been filled end to end with stories, dictionaries, and learning, all of it stored on small scent-plaques, collected and racked in a meaningful order. Each plaque was designed to be a permanent form of the scents used by the colony and thousands would be arranged to form each story or record. Many ages ago, when they were still fresh, simply scratching a row of plaques would release a complex stream of scent. She had been lucky to find the story that she now carried in her scent analyser buried at this end of the room. At the end where the roof had collapsed the carefully ordered collections of plaques had ended up in irreversible disarray. They could never be fully recompiled, without an irresponsible level of guesswork, but the fragments allowed them insight into the scents of the time and hence ideas about the lifestyle they had.
She was certain that the story she now carried took place during that exact pivotal point at which their ancient and natural civilization turned a corner and began to slip into this warped and grotesque slave-race it had now become. If they had catalogued and translated the plaques correctly, distilling the minute traces of remaining scent from the encased discs then what she carried was the story of a monster. From their brief initial analysis, the changes that ensued from the events of the story were initiated by one individual, clearly a deceitful power hungry individual. How else could today’s horrors have begun? She hoped to use the example contained within to fuel the revolutionary backlash that she and a few selected clergy were secretly planning. When the colony saw how things used to operate and experienced for themselves the hatred she knew she would feel for the very first of their traitorous tormentors, she and her allies would offer them a way out.
She turned from the cavern and into an antechamber that housed an airlock and elevator system. Two broken bodies lay twisted and twitching in the corner of the room. One of the site commissioners had been displeased with the attitudes of these two unfortunates. They would be easily replaced; the life of a non-elite individual was entirely expendable. Their species could breed with astounding speed, even though only a small group of the population was capable of doing so. The breeders who were kept entirely segregated from normal society were not entitled to do anything else. At least her recent studies were showing that this had been a traditional part of their races culture, but she was not sure that it had always been the tradition to restrict their food and health care when they did not keep up with the greedy demands the elite imposed.
Within moments she was back on her shuttle, resting by one of its thick windows and staring out at the night and at the ancient colony site, which was gigantic beyond imagination. Even the lowest living mounds where the colony members once scurried and worked were immense, growing from the dried earth, like mountains. Her legs flexed as the shuttle lifted from the parched earth and it was soon throttling upwards with some speed. Nevertheless the nearest mound still towered above her. What was most astounding of all was that these monstrous colony spaces were dwarfed to insignificance when compared to the colony tower itself.