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Scent of Decay
Others notice her looks, the cool beauty that can take a man's breath away at a single glance, but for me it was different. The first thing I noticed, truly noticed, was her scent. Clean, crisp but with just a hint of death around the edges. It's a funny kind of thing to be attracted to, the stench of the corpse, and I don't suppose anyone besides me ever noticed. But Seven of Nine smelt of death and decay.
In my mother's culture a dead body is nothing but an empty shell, to be disposed of and forgotten. They believe that once death has propelled the spirit onto its final journey, the flesh has no meaning. But what happens when the flesh dies but the soul remains trapped? That wandering spirit submerged beneath layers of reanimated muscle, skin and tissue; its prison complete with bars of steel and nanoprobe sentries.
How then does the spirit move forward? How does that battered soul gain release?
The smell of death was what first attracted me to Seven; but it was my hatred and disgust that had been lured by the aroma. I despised her. Not for who she was or what she'd done as a drone, but because I knew she didn't belong with us, with the living. My hatred wasn't for Annika Hansen or Seven of Nine, it was for the walking, talking collection of bones that were keeping that poor woman chained to this desolate realm.
More than once I thought about ending it; putting the poor creature out of her misery and mine. But I couldn't. As much as I tried to convince myself she was already dead, a single look or arrogant word would be enough to make me revaluate me certainties. If she were dead, how could she inspire such fire within me?
I soon began to push her away. If I could not smell her death, I could not mourn the woman she might have been. It didn't work. She wouldn't let it. Day after day she invaded my space. It was almost as if she took delight in my suffering. I kept her at arms length, brandishing my supposed annoyance like a shield. She never annoyed me. Not really. What she did was far worse. She scared the life out of me.
The tinge of death I'd sense from her was only a pale imitation of the stench that surrounded my own body and heart. My death had been gradual, my soul shrinking into tepid disuse after years of struggle and doubt. Finally it had sought release. The bruises and cuts I inflicted on my flesh were meant to release me from my pain, from my life. But somehow I could never go the final distance. I could never give my soul the one thing it craved. Release.
Seven and I, sisters in death, prisoners of life.
I don't know when things changed for her, when she became one of the living. I had spent so much energy on avoiding her, distancing myself from the one person who could unmask my charade, that I didn't comprehend her metamorphosis. Where there had once been death, there was suddenly life. Where trails of decay had suffused the very air around her, now there was the hint of strawberries and fresh expectations. She was more alive than I had ever been.
I avoided her even more after that. My confusion was deafening, questions battling at my heart for a response I dare not voice. If she could be so alive, why couldn't I?
In the end I didn't have the energy to avoid her. There seemed little point in dodging the agony that she caused, as pain and sorrow had become my home. Watching then, with newly unblinkered eyes, I began to see what the others had beheld from the beginning. A woman of beauty and calm. But somehow, I still manage to see more than even her most scrupulous admirer. I saw her pain, her confusion, her questions of life.
I began to talk with her; at first about inconsequential matters but soon about her fears and hopes. Then somewhere during our conversations my own demons were let out to play, but instead of frightening her, as I'd expected, she welcomed them and me into her heart. It was confusing for both of us, but she would not let me pull away.
Slowly I began to let go. The anger, frustration, heartache and death that had surrounded me for most of my life, withered away to nothing under her kind words and innocent enquiries. Until finally I am left, a living, breathing, loving woman, whose greatest joys come in the form of a beautiful and calm angel, who smells like life.
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