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Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

Author:Neal Stephenson [Stephenson, Neal]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers
Published: 2021-09-30T16:00:00+00:00


BIG FISH

Pippa cut it all together on her laptop during the bus ride back to the nearest volunteer base camp and uploaded it while they were eating their lentil and potato curry. The camp was centered on a little compound of stone walls and stone huts above the lake. Faded signs indicated it had once been a hostel for backpackers and extremely adventuresome Indian motorists. When their bellies were full and their wounds seen to, the Fellowship found an unclaimed patch of ground, kicked rocks out of the way, and just managed to get tents and tarps pitched before darkness fell.

Laks awoke with a need to pee and a fragrance in his nostrils. Which was unusual, for him. Since COVID, most of what he smelled was bad. His doctor had explained to him that COVID damaged the nerve cells in the linings of your nostrils—the ones that intermediated between the olfactory receptors themselves and whatever nerves ran back into your brain. Or something like that. Once the body had defeated the infection, those nerve cells tried to grow back, with varying success depending on how badly they’d been damaged. Sometimes they never grew back at all. Sometimes they got completely better. In between, though, it was like the body was trying to nail down its most survival-relevant capabilities first. And the most important thing your sense of smell could do for you in the way of keeping you alive was to warn you of things that could actually kill you: smoke, gas leaks, rotten meat. And so for some patients those were the smells that came back first. And they got crosswired to the olfactory receptors in crazy ways. So you might put your nose up to a rose or a garlic clove, give it a sniff, but instead smell something dangerous. Laks had never got past that phase. He could smell certain things correctly. Mostly dangerous things. Not so much good things.

What he was smelling right now was a blend of dangerous and good, though. It was definitely smoke. But not the smoke of burning wood or coal, which was what you normally smelled in this part of the world. This smoke had an herbal, almost perfumed aroma.

He was not the first to wake up. He could hear Pippa, Bella, and Sue talking in their tent, quite cheerfully and with outbursts of laughter and of delighted surprise.

It sounded and smelled like someone had re-stoked their little campfire; but where had they obtained that much wood?

Laks extracted himself from his sleeping bag and stumbled out into the Fellowship’s mini-compound to find an officer of the Indian Army sitting there in a low-slung camp chair next to the campfire, which was blazing. He was sipping something hot from a thermos, swiping his finger across a tablet, and somehow—as if he were one of those many-armed Hindu deities—managing, at the same time, to smoke a pipe. He was smoking a pipe. This was a thing Laks had seen in black-and-white movies but



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