Jeronica watched the glass door close behind Manguy, and was delighted to see that her adjustments to the retarder had worked perfectly; the door struck Manguy sharply on his gym-toned bottom before he’d quite left the office. He jumped, but he refused to look back, and so Jeronica allowed herself the smallest of smiles before carefully readjusting her face into concern, and half-rising from her seat. When Manguy continued walking away, she sat back down again.
“You have seven minutes before your 11:30,” said a mechanical-sounding voice from the desk-intercom. This was Tayberry, Jeronica’s personal assistant. She’d lasted for nearly two years now, making her the longest serving employee of Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations without a title at the VP level or above.
“Good,” said Jeronica. “Manguy was lying to me at the rate of four lies a minute today. It’s exhausting listening to him and filtering out the crap from the credible. I need you to look up what you can about Thunder Bay though; it’s a town, probably not in Finland but with a strong Finnish influence. He’s being very cagey about something, and that’s all I’ve got so far from him.”
“Your 11:30 has arrived,” said Tayberry emotionlessly. “I have put her in the waiting room and provided her with laxative tea. She intends to talk to you about perfume.”
“Send her in when she starts looking for the restrooms,” said Jeronica.
The woman walked in slightly stiffly, as though she was uncomfortable in her own skin, and looked around. Jeronica’s office had only one chair, which Jeronica had not bothered to rise from; a crystal table covered in publications from the kind of industries that Data Analytic Marketetic Normalisations liked to deal in (the one on top had its entire cover taken up with the question Who owns Sweden?), and various other office accoutrements. The woman swept the magazines from the table with an arm and set a clear glass bottle down on it in the dead centre.
“Pick them up,” said Jeronica, picking up her letter-opener. It was made of stainless steel, sharpened like a scalpel, and had a stag’s head for a handle.
“They’re irrelevant compared to what’s in this bottle,” said the woman. “As you should know, if you’d remembered who I am.”
“If you know who I am then we’re already on a suitable footing.”
“I am Giselle d’Astinge. I was employed by your firm five years ago, and you’ve been paying me that entire time.”
“That sounds like an issue for accounts, not me. I am currently heading up soft power, soft furnishings and dielectrics. I do not deal with the soft-headed.”
“I merely create perfumes that induce hypnosis.”
Jeronica set the knife down as though she had grown tired of holding it, and opened the phone-book that listed all the important people in the building. “I shall call accounts for you,” she said. “While we wait for them to fetch you, why don’t you tell me how a perfume could induce hypnosis?”
Giselle smiled very faintly in a way that reminded Jeronica of herself and made her shiver. “It is subtle,” she said. “So few people know much about the art of smell, and fewer still know enough to achieve this. Inside the nose, and this is disputed by many scientists who are wedded to disproven theories, is a sensitive biological spectrometer that measures the molecules entering the nose and generates impulses in the brain that generate smell. This means that there are molecules that are entirely different to one another and yet smell identical, and that there are molecules whose smell changes simply by changing the isotopes of the atoms involved. It also means that there is a way to directly influence the brain from the nose, one that people not only don’t realise, but will actively engage in if they like the scent enough.”
Jeronica’s hand was poised over the phone’s keypad, but unmoving. “Go on,” she said.
“What I’ve done is simply to study those signals and then work out what order they need to arrive in to create a state of suggestibility. Then I’ve built those molecules into evaporants of appropriate molecular weights to ensure that they reach the nose in the right order, and bottled it as a perfume. The perfume you see on the table in front of you now.”
Jeronica pulled her hand away from the phone. “That would be very useful, in the right circles,” she said. “It could revolutionise diplomacy.”
“It would destroy diplomacy as we know it,” said Giselle. She crossed her legs, even though she was standing up, and flushed suddenly.
“We have different words for the same phenomenon,” said Jeronica. “Accounts may not be the right people to direct your enquiry to after all.”
“I’m pleased you understand that.”
“Why have you kept the bottle closed? Surely you would have wanted to use it to influence me?”
Giselle smiled tightly, as though preoccupied by something more pressing. “You are anosmic, Jeronica. You told me this when you commissioned me to create this. There would be no point trying to use it on you.”
“It doesn’t work on anosmics then?”
“No, not normally. Although it depends on the cause of the anosmia of course; if the damage is mostly mental then it’s possible it might; if the damage is physical though it won’t.”
“I see. Well, I need to see this tested then. Open the bottle and stand by the door; I have a meeting in ten minutes and we shall see how influenced the other attender is by your perfume. Oh, you look stricken. Do you perhaps need something?”
“A toilet would be nice,” said Giselle. “Or, since you won’t smell it anyway, perhaps you could just turn your back for a minute?”