Laser Beam Ice Cream

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Digital image. Foreground bottom, a bowl with three scoops of ice cream. The center scoop has little lightning bolts surrounding it. Behind the bowl are three figures. Center, from waist up is a smiling young man facing forward, with his curled hands on his hips. To his left is a young woman from waist up in three-quarters profile, her head tilted up. A beam of light shoots from her eyes. She holds the first two fingers of her left hand to her temple. To the young man’s right is a black-and-white dog, seated, who is also looking up and shooting beams of light from his eyes. He wears a collar with the name “Percival” on it.

“I’ve done it, Percival. I’ve really done it.”

Arthur strode into his kitchen with the black-and-white mutt following.  In his right hand, he held the cause of the grin on his face.  The fist-sized device looked like an ordinary gate clicker or car alarm controller. 

“I wonder if the name ‘Bandage Beam’ is taken,” Arthur said, as he reached for the freezer handle. 

The device he held was a miniature laser that could heal minor wounds, serve the same role as an adhesive bandage for more serious wounds, and even serve to disinfect and clot a moderately serious wound until it could be properly treated.  

The device would still need to be properly tested.  But based on its effect on the cut he slicing a pepper that morning, it worked like a charm.  The cut on his finger had healed completely in about an hour, and Arthur was ecstatic.

He pulled out a carton of chocolate ice cream.  Then a carton of strawberry.  And finally vanilla.

Arthur glanced down at Percival, who was now sitting and gazing up at him, ears perked.

“Don’t worry.  You’re celebrating with me.”  He pulled a jar of peanut butter out of the nearest cabinet.

Arthur opened each carton, still holding his device in his palm, as if it were a good luck charm.  He fetched a bowl and scoop, still holding his device in his palm, as if he were afraid to let it go.  He prepared himself a bowl with generous scoops of each flavor, still holding his device in his palm, as if it were a part of him.

That’s why he still had the device in his hand when he went to fetch a couple of spoons, turned around to return to the bowl, and tripped on a dog toy. 

His portable, miniature laser beam healing aid flew out of his hand and landed in the still-open container of vanilla ice cream.

Arthur pushed down the momentary surge of panic about the electronics in the laser.  He reached out to pick the device out of the ice cream.  Luminescent sparks made him recoil.  Arthur paused.  He searched his drawers for a pair of tongs with a rubber grip.  He used them to get the device out.  It was no longer sparking, so he risked wiping off the ice cream with a damp cloth.

When he glanced at the ice cream, he noted that it was still sparking a little.

After a mild scolding to the seemingly oblivious Percival, a scolding that was meant mostly as a means to stall from facing the possibility of damage to his device, Arthur decided he had to test the device again.  But he didn’t have any wounds.  He hadn’t built in any self-test or calibration functions yet.  But even if he had, and even if those functions were operating properly, the only way to be sure was to test the device on a wound.

Arthur went into strolling mode, walking into the living room, ice cream forgotten for the moment.  He debated whether or not he should give himself a minor cut.  It seemed reckless to do so, even to test a device that should make the cut vanish in an hour.  But if the device was broken, at least he’d know, and he could start repairing it. 

But that too was a problem. 

Arthur had been taking notes every step of the way, and in the beginning, he’d stopped to organize the notes, make sense of them.  But as he got closer and closer to making the device work, he’d gotten careless, taking notes on his phone, his computer, a napkin, a notebook.  There were dates on each entry.  But putting it all together and making sense of it…that would take time.  And he was afraid of missing a detail, some small but significant detail.

By the time Arthur wandered back into the kitchen, having decided he had no choice but to cut himself, he found his sister standing at the counter.  She must have come in from the back, a habit she’d picked up from wanting to avoid seeing a certain someone who used to live there. 

Vivian was in the middle of eating a spoonful of ice cream, and at the same time holding out a spoon for Percival to lick. 

“Oh, brother, my brother,” she said.  “Alas, for I am weary and in need of sweet sustenance.” 

Arthur held out his hand.  “Stop!  Stop eating!”

“Relax,” she said. “Percy’s spoon has peanut butter on it.  I know ice cream is generally not safe for dogs.  I looked it up once.  And I put your bowl in the freezer so it wouldn’t melt.  I know how particular you are about your flavor proportions.”

Arthur explained that he just had an accident and his device had fallen in the same carton of vanilla ice cream that Vivian was eating from.  Vivian put the spoon down and thanked him for giving her food poisoning.  She reached for the gallon to throw it away, but Arthur again stopped her.

Arthur carefully capped the affected ice cream.  It was no longer sparking, so he dared to touch the container and put it away in the freezer as Vivian advised him to at least mark it “danger” so that no one but him would eat it and suffer diarrhea.

“I’m sure the ice cream is fine,” she said.  “I’m assuming you had just cleaned and decontaminated your device thing before coming into the kitchen.”  

He’d always been good about keeping things clean.  He was the only one who measured up to Vivian’s own standards.

He confirmed that he had but as she began to relax and massage Percival’s head, Arthur explained what he’d been doing and what just happened.

“An invention?” Vivian’s eye lit up.  “Why didn’t you tell me?  This is why you haven’t been going out?”  She exhaled.  “What a relief.  I thought maybe you were still hung up on…the individual whose name I shall not utter here or hereafter.”  She met Arthur’s gaze.  “I never liked him.”

“Really?  I couldn’t tell.  You’re so…subtle.”  He pointed to the device.  “Can we focus on this, please?”

“Focusing.”

“Have you ever heard of laser therapy?”

Vivian shook her head.  “No, but it sounds scary.”

“It’s not. It’s basically using low levels of light to help speed up our bodies’ natural healing process. My invention goes a step further in one simple way.”  He briefly outlined the device’s features.

Vivian blinked.  “How is that better than just keeping adhesive bandages around?  Or, better yet, that liquid bandage stuff that I discovered.  I told mom about it.  At first, she was—“

“Vivian.”

“Oh, sorry.  Continue.”

Arthur noted that he had to test the device to make sure there was no damage from the ice cream, and he’d just come in the kitchen to give himself a minor cut when he saw her.

“Don’t tempt fate,” Vivian said. “What if you get flesh-eating bacteria?  All because you wanted to test your device.  Does it do anything for sprains?”

“No, why? What did you sprain?”

“Never mind then.”

Vivian clapped her hands. “Wait…does it work on acne?”

“I don’t know. I never thought of—“

“Never thought of it, because you don’t have adult acne, because you’re a smooth-faced punk!”  Vivian punched a fist in her palm. “But for people like me…”

Arthur raised his brows. “Maybe, we can certainly try.”

Vivian flourished a hand across her face. “But of course, I just happen not have any at the moment.”  She gave the “sigh of reason” as she called it. The exhale she expelled just before…speaking reason. “I’ll get one soon, I’m sure. And it’ll be a safer way to test your machine than cutting on yourself.”

“It’s for science.”

“Oh is it, now? And if science told you to jump off a cliff, young man, would you do it?”

Arthur bit his lip to keep from giving her the satisfaction of his laughter.

Vivian swung an arm over her brother’s shoulder.  “Maybe instead of going out, we can make dinner tonight.”

“We?”

“Mostly you.” Vivian approached and slapped a hand on his shoulder.  “Maybe you’ll get lucky and suffer a common kitchen injury.  Do you suppose your invention can do anything to prevent onion tears?”

Arthur held up the device.  “It was sparking, but I don’t want to take it apart unless I have to.  It was a delicate process making it.”

Vivian removed her arm and gazed at the device.  “I’m proud of you, bro.”

Arthur looked at his sister, at her eyes.  They were sincere.  “Thanks, but that might be premature.  Be proud of me when I make it work.”

“Brother dearest mine, your worth is not in the things you make, but in who you are.”

Arthur peered at his sister. “And who am I?”

Vivian paused.  Her eyes softened.  “The best pizza cook in town.”

Arthur smirked. “Uh, huh. Pizza it is.”

Vivian gave him a sheepish grin, then picked up the dog toy he’d tripped on, admonished Percival about leaving his toys lying around, and corralled the mildly repentant canine into the living room.

“Oh, the ice cream was sparking too,” Arthur said, “so you may not get food poisoning, but if something weird does happen, let me know.”

Vivian turned around. “What do you mean the ice cream was sparking?”

***

It was late afternoon, still a few hours before dinner.  Arthur suggested they walk to the grocery store to pick up some missing ingredients for dinner.  Vivian accused him of hoping for some injury on their walk, teasing him for walking weirdly close to the bushes with his forearms bared, as if he hoped a branch would scrape him.

Arthur shot her a look of annoyance, annoyance at her astuteness.  They cut through a park to let Percival run around a little.  They ran into one of Arthur’s neighbors, a twelve-year-old aspiring scientist who Arthur sometimes helped with her life sciences homework.  She raced over to say hello and ask them watch her perform some skate trick.

Percival bounded over and when the girl knelt down to pet him, Arthur and Vivian noted the fresh scrapes on her knees through her torn jeans.  Vivian too knelt down to take a closer look.

“Did this just happen?” Vivian asked.

“I put some stuff on it,” the girl said.  “I’ve had worse.”

“Said the park-weary preteen,” Vivian said, her brows contorted.  She looked up at Arthur.  “How’s this for a test of your laser?”

Arthur shook his head.  “I’m not using it on anyone else, until I know it’s safe.”

Vivian frowned.  “Is it me?  It looks way gnarlier from down here.”

As she peered at the wound, two beams of laser light blasted out of Vivian’s eyes onto the girl’s scraped up knee.  The burst lasted a second.   Arthur wasn’t quite sure he’d seen what he thought he saw. 

The girl winced and complained of itching and tingling.  She grabbed her leg just above the knee.  Before their eyes, the red scrapes and patches vanished, swallowed up by smooth skin, scarless skin.

The girl gasped.  She gazed down at her knee, then glanced at Vivian, who rose.

“How did you do that?”

Arthur was stunned by what he’d just seen, and Vivian seemed stunned by what she’d just done.  Arthur promised the girl he would explain later.  He had established a credibility for actually answering her questions, so the girl accepted the answer and let them leave.  The siblings turned around, abandoning the grocery store plans to return to Arthur’s place right away.

***

Vivian appeared somewhat woozy as they reached the front door.  Arthur reached behind himself to help her in, not looking where his own steps fell.  And so he tripped for the second time that day.  Over another dog toy.

Vivian—who typically managed to navigate around Percival’s toys somehow—knelt to see if her brother was okay.

Arthur hadn’t just tripped this time.  His foot had slipped and twisted.  He sat up and winced as he removed his shoe and sock.

Percival barked at him, and licked the ankle after Arthur pointed to it then to him.  Percival barked again, looked at Arthur’s ankle, and two beams of light burst from his eyes.

Vivian’s eyes widened.  “What the—?”

Arthur gestured for Percival to come close.  He mussed the dogs head and ears.  He noticed that the pain in his ankle had vanished.

“The ice cream,” he said.

Vivian had eaten at least a spoonful of the vanilla ice cream.

Arthur remembered that a few droplets of melted ice cream had dripped on the floor.  Percival must have licked them up.

Arthur shook his head as Vivian helped him to his feet.  “This doesn’t make sense.”

“That your dog has healing laser beam eyes?  Folks, the winner of the ‘Understatement of the Day Award,’ my once and future brother—“

“He healed my sprain, I think.  My Bandage Beam wouldn’t have been able to do that.  It was just for surface injuries.  It could maybe have helped with skin bruising, but…”

“You’d still put a bandage on a sprain, wouldn’t you?”

“I believe so, but it’s—um—a compression bandage, I think.  Not an adhesive one.”

“What’s the difference?”

“And you, you healed her the same way.”

“What?”

“Don’t you remember?  You did the same thing.  Light beams from your eyes?”

Vivian blinked as if disoriented.  “How?”

“I don’t know.  The device falls in the ice dream.  You guys eat the ice cream.  Now you have healing light beams in your eyes?  This is—this is like a cartoon-level mishap.  It makes no logical sense.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I think it might make logical sense. What you probably mean is that it doesn’t make scientific sense.”

“Um, okay.”

Vivian pointed a finger up.  “You’re looking at this from the scientific perspective.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“There are other perspectives.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes.  “Ones that are correct?”

“Oh, like science has always been correct?”

“Science, yes.  It’s the scientific establishment—or those who claim to be—that have gotten it wrong sometimes.”  Arthur crossed his arms.  “Okay, from your perspective, what do you think has happened?”

“Not my perspective.  My observation.  The properties of your device have been transferred from the device to the ice cream through a process of physical immersion.”  She held her hands out, palms facing each other, and moved both hands from left to right.  “It’s possible that if you put the device back into the ice cream, the process could reverse, and your device would work again.  And the ice cream would go back to normal.”

Arthur stared at Vivian. 

She shrugged.  “Cartoon logic for a cartoon accident.  Worth a try, isn’t it?  Unless you think another dip in the vanilla pool will break it even more.”

“We don’t know that the device is broken.”

“Because you didn’t want to test it.”

“On a child?  No!  And what happened to all your warnings about flesh-eating bacteria and not cutting myself for science?”

“You’re right.  You’re right, as per usual.”  She pointed to her eyes.  “But we can’t waste this.” 

“We have to take it slow and think first—“

Vivian snapped her fingers.  “Why don’t I walk into the emergency room of the nearest hospital and start blasting away people’s misery?  You can document and study the whole thing.”

“Think that might cause a scene?  Maybe?”

“Well, we can pull a few people into the hallway or something.”

Arthur huffed a breath.  “Sure, hey folks, come out back and let me show you this new medical miracle I’ve discovered.  It’s called snake oil.  I’ll only charge you thirteen-ninety-nine…because I like your faces.”

Vivian threw up her hands.  “Well, how do you propose we test it then?”

“Slow down, okay?  We don’t know if the rest of the ice cream even retains this…property.  For all we know, putting it in the freezer and changing its temperature could have changed the property.  So too, things often lose their effectiveness over time.  Bleach stops being as potent if it’s been sitting in your cupboard for a while.  Radioisotopes have half-lives, meaning their radioactivity decreases by half over a certain period of time.  You wait long enough, and it’s all gone.”

“So, we don’t know what the ‘half-life’ of the laser beam ice cream is?”

“Correct, and it’s not…actually, no, I kind of like that name.”

Vivian’s eyes widened and a grin bloomed on her face.  “And I’m the Laser Beam Ice Queen.  Healer of Maladies.”

“You heard the part where I said ‘slow down,’ right?”

***

The siblings spent the rest of the evening discussing what they should do.  Vivian wanted to have another spoonful of ice cream and hit the streets to start healing people.  Arthur wanted to be cautious, because there were too many variables.  He watched his sister and kept asking her how she felt, even as he watched Percival.  They both seemed fine so far. 

Arthur wanted to make sure they stayed fine, and that the people they had healed stayed fine as well. He wanted to further analyze the ice cream, and make certain it was safe before allowing Vivian to eat any more of it. 

Vivian asked if he had any veterinarian friends, suggesting he try testing his device and she try testing her ability with healing sick animals.  But Arthur was as opposed to that as to her emergency room idea, referring to her suggestion as “animal experimentation,” which made Vivian balk at first and then look down at Percival and claim that’s not what they would be doing.

“I also don’t want to experiment on my sister,” Arthur said.

“Don’t you eat any of it yourself,” Vivian warned.

“You know I won’t.”

Vivian finally suggested they try to heal plants, joking that she had a dying cactus in a pot on her patio.

They ended the conversation with only the agreement that Vivian would return the next day, so that they could continue the discussion, and so that Arthur could make sure she was still okay.

But that night, no less than an hour after she left, Vivian called him.

“Okay, first of all, I didn’t mean to do it,” she said.  “But I couldn’t wait till tomorrow to tell you.”

Arthur held his breath for a few moments.

Vivian said that she accidentally—by reflex, she thought—healed a neighbor’s rheumatoid arthritis.  She ran into the elderly woman who lived in the unit next to hers, and in her desire to not answer any questions or get any advice on what to do about that dying cactus of hers, Vivian had momentarily forgotten about the ice cream.  But then her neighbor complained of her pains, rubbing her red and puffed knuckles.  The next thing she knew, Vivian felt a strange pressure in her eyes and she saw, strangely, red, inflamed lines gripping her neighbor’s hands.  She blinked, and her neighbor cried out.  Vivian reached out to steady her.

Her neighbor thought the bright flash might be from Vivian’s cell phone.  She was disoriented, but then she gasped again and started flexing her hands.  Her knuckles no longer appeared red and knobby.  She started laughing and slapped Vivian on the arm, telling her she must have had “healing hands.”

“But it wasn’t my hands, was it, dear brother?”

Arthur asked her how she felt.  He asked her to describe in more detail what she saw, and the sensation she felt before and during the healing.  And after.

“I feel, a little tired maybe, but good tired.  And that might just be from the whole day though.”

Arthur felt a lurch in his stomach.  “Maybe I should have had you stay here tonight, and kept an eye on you.  What was I thinking, letting you go home?”

“If you hadn’t, we wouldn’t have found out more—or, gathered more data?”

“Anecdotal observation.”

“Call it what ye will.”

Arthur sighed.  “Call me first thing in the morning, so I know you’re alive and well.”

Vivian acknowledged, saying she was going straight to bed.

The next morning, her call woke Arthur in a panic, until he remembered his request and saw it was his sister calling.

Vivian was fine.  And when he checked, Percival too seemed fine.

Both siblings had to work that day, but Arthur’s hours were flexible and Vivian was able to leave early.  They gathered at Arthur’s for lunch, spreading out notes and takeout on his dinner table.

Vivian impressed her brother by already having searched how long it would take for her to digest the ice cream and expel it from her body.  She did have an opportunity to heal someone when a colleague burned herself with the steam of some new coffee machine in the break room.  While someone else went to get the first aid kit, Vivian stared at the minor burn. 

Nothing happened.  Either the effects of ice cream only lasted as long as it was in her stomach and small intestine, or the wound did not trigger the reflex for some reason.

Arthur shook his head.  “Too many variables.”

“Well, let’s focus on which ones we can manage.”

He grinned at her.

“What?  Am I thinking like a scientist?”

“Little bit.”

“Maybe at some point, I can get you to think like a poet.”

“I wouldn’t count on it.  Remember the last time I tried to write a poem?”

“Ah yes, the Mother’s Day debacle.”

“We’ve got to come up with a plan,” Arthur said, tossing a piece of bread to Percival.  “We break it up into three parts.  The study of the ice cream and device.  The study of the person eating the ice cream—once it’s deemed safe to do so.   And a study of the persons who’ve been healed.  Okay, step one—“

Arthur was interrupted by the sound of a loud spark and thump.  They turned their heads to the source of the sound.  Vivian glanced back to look at him. 

“That came from the freezer,” she said.

***

They opened his freezer.  The tub of vanilla ice cream, the one that Arthur’s device fell into, was covered in luminescent sparks.

“Looks like little lightning bolts,” Vivian said.

“What does it mean?” Arthur wondered aloud.

Vivian reached into the freezer.  “I think it’s communicating with us.  It’s saying, ‘eat me.’”

Arthur pushed her hand away. 

“Oh, hey, how about this?  Do you have one of those radiation detector things?” she asked.

“A Geiger counter?”

“That’s it.”

“Why would I have a Geiger counter at home?”

“Could you get one?”

“It doesn’t detect every type of radiation.  Anyway, like you said, this looks more like electricity.”  Arthur tapped his chin.  “I might have a voltmeter around here someplace.”

“I think mayhaps, it is time to attempt cartoon logic?” Vivian raised her brows.  When Arthur frowned in confusion, she sighed.  “Transference.”

Arthur gazed at the sparking tub of ice cream.

Vivian placed a hand on his shoulder.  “I know.  You still haven’t proven if your device is even broken yet.  But how about we sterilize a needle and I let you prick your least favorite finger, and—“

“What if this is it?” Arthur said, still staring ahead into the freezer.  “What if I can’t build another working device?  What if this gallon of vanilla ice cream is all that’s left of the best thing I’ve ever made?”

Arthur felt his sister’s hand on his other shoulder. 

“It won’t be the best thing you’ve ever made,” she said, her tone as firm as her hands.  “But even if it is—and I sincerely doubt that it is—then you’ll find a way to do some good with it.”

“With some help?” he asked, turning to her.

“Does that mean you’ll let me eat some?”

“Once I’m satisfied it’s safe to eat.”  Arthur raised his left hand and showed her his palm.  “I already tested my device after you left last night.  It doesn’t work.” 

Vivian peered at his palm. 

“Papercut,” he said.

She sucked air through her teeth and recoiled.

Arthur pressed his thumb and forefinger together gently.  “Still hurts when I wash my hands.”

***

They tried “cartoon logic.”

They pulled out the tub of vanilla ice cream, waiting for the top to melt a little.

“Where’d you get this from anyway?” Vivian asked, reading the lid.  “I’ve never seen this brand.”

“It’s a store brand.  I only had a spoonful before the accident.  It tastes like any other vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had.”

“Yeah, same.  But maybe I should do some research on the manufacturer.  Cover that variable”

“Good idea,” Arthur said.

 “In case they use some arcane ingredient that could account for the transference event.”

Arthur shook his head. 

He winced as he tossed his device, his only prototype, back into the ice cream. 

“How long was it in there the first time?” Vivian asked.

“Not long.”

When the device came into contact with the ice cream, little lightning bolts sparked at the interface and arced outward surrounded the tub and the device.  They dissipated in a few seconds, and Arthur used tongs to remove the device.  He wiped it off, just as he’d done before.  He tried using it on his papercut, which was already naturally healing.  Nothing happened.

Vivian suggested that she could take it to work and try it on that colleague who had a steam burn.  But Arthur still didn’t want to test the device on other people, at least not until he had proper consent forms drafted.  He took the device with him to work, where he had some tools that might help him diagnose what was wrong with the device. 

***

Just before lunch, he received a call from Vivian. 

“Don’t be mad,” she said, “but I’ve got more data for you.”

“What do you mean—?  No, please tell me you didn’t.”

“I just had a few spoonfuls, when you went to clean the device.  I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen after we attempted the transference.”

“Vivian—“

“Yell at me later.  First let me tell you what happened.”

Vivian was going to try her laser beam eyes on that colleague who’d gotten the steam burn the day before.  But while Vivian was waiting to approach her, another colleague walked into the break room, freshly returned from vacation and wearing a cast and a sling over his tropically tanned arm.  He was in a pretty good mood too, because he didn’t break his arm until the last day, the last hour actually of his vacation, doing something he’d originally planned on doing when he first got there.  So he was feeling lucky. 

“I asked him how long he thought his luck might last,” Vivian said.  “Et cetera and so on.  We talked, and I managed to convince him to let me try healing his arm.  I fibbed just a little, because I told him I had your device and that’s what I would use, just to get him to come over to my cubicle.  Anyway, he came over, and I told him to sit, and then I stared at his arm.  It was strange.  I wrote it all down for you in detail, but I saw cracks along his arm.”

Arthur gaped.  “You saw the break?  Like an x-ray?”

“No, not like that.  I wasn’t looking through his skin and muscle or anything.  But I also wasn’t looking only at what my eyes could normally see…” 

She paused so long and the line was so silent that Arthur checked to see if the call had been disconnected.  But it hadn’t been. 

“Vivian?”

“The next thing I knew, I felt that pressure in my eye.  The blast happened.  But this time, this time it wasn’t just a few seconds.  I had told him not to move, or to scratch.  He didn’t.  I started counting.  I think my laser eyes blasted his arm for about thirty seconds.”

“Thirty!  That’s a long time to sustain a—how are you feeling?  Are you tired?  Drained?”

“Drained…maybe more like tapped out.  But exhilarated and kind of relaxed too.  Like I’ve just done a decent workout.  Not too easy.  Not too hard.  But just on the edge.  Oh, and I was sweating too.  We both were after.  But there was no heat, not from the beam anyway.”

“And…your colleague?”

“He’s a bit dazed.  He asked me what happened.  And I fibbed again.  I told him I pulled out the device and used it on him.  I asked him if he could see okay, because the beam was pretty bright.  I had warned him to look away.  But maybe it’s brighter than I thought.”

“And his arm?”

“He says it doesn’t hurt anymore.  He had just been using over-the-counter stuff for the pain, and he said he was still feeling a constant throbbing, and the occasional sharp pain if he moved his arm a certain way.  But he said there’s no way of telling if he’s healed unless he gets another x-ray, right?  So he kept his sling on.  I asked him to let me know how it goes.”

“Vivian…”

“I know. I know.”  She took a breath and exhaled.  “I realized when he said he’d have to get an x-ray that there were things I didn’t consider.  Lots off, huh, variables.  I rushed in.  I won’t eat anymore of the ice cream.  You have my word—my word of honor—on Merlin’s soul.” 

Merlin, their first childhood pet.  The scrawny ancient-looking puppy their mom rescued from the pound, who they fed and coddled and loved until his fur grew shiny and darker, and his frame grew bigger and stronger, and full of energy, as if he were aging backwards.  If Vivian was swearing on his soul, she had bound herself to what she said.  She would not touch the ice cream again until Arthur was sure it was safe.

“I think I’m starting to get a headache too,” she said.  “I’ve got so much to do here.”

“I’m staying over at your place tonight,” Arthur said.  “I’ll sneak Percy in.  We’ll both keep an eye on you.”

***

Vivian went home early that day, when she realized her headache wasn’t going away, and she couldn’t get any work done anyway.  She looked worn, her eyes half-drooped, even after she took something for the pain.  She had little appetite for the pizza Arthur brought over, wanting only to drink cold water.  She’d wrapped herself in a blanket, already in pajamas, by the time Arthur arrived.

“I don’t think it’s the ice cream,” she said about her headache.  “Or it’s not just the ice cream.  I’ve been staring at my computer screen for too long over the past few days.  It’s this stuff we’ve got due at work.  And then I wanted to look up stuff for our project.  Got carried away.  Didn’t take breaks for eye rest.”

Our project?” Arthur said.

“Oh, right, sorry brother mine.  Your project.”

“No, you’re right.  It is our project.  We’re both responsible for it.”

Vivian brought two fingers to her temple.  “Hmm, analysis in progress.  Detecting emphasis on the word ‘responsible.’  Initiate sarcasm.”

Arthur turned to Percival.  “Doctor-Lieutenant, how bad does a headache have to be before sarcasm functions are disabled?”

Percival cocked his head as if to indicate that he wasn’t familiar with whatever inside thing they were doing, but he was game if Arthur just clued him in.

“It’s happened.”  Vivian groaned as she lay her head on her sofa arm.  “Multiple functions disabled.” 

She suddenly got up and headed to her bedroom.  “Sorry, I’m a bad host.  Make yourself at home.  It’s bedtime for me.”

It was nine.  Arthur followed her in to leave a tray with more pain medication and her bottle full of fresh water.  “I remember where everything is,” he said.  “I’ll leave the door open.  Just yell if you need anything.”

“I’ll have to take tomorrow off,” Vivian said.  “We’ll follow up later.  On the x-rays and the scraped knees.  I need rest.  I’ve got to pace myself if I’m going to help you save the world, one shaving nick at a time.”

Arthur laughed.  “Sleep well, Laser Beam Ice Queen.”

Vivian smiled.  “Thank you, oh brother, my brother…King of All Brothers.”

Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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