Atalanta Pendragonne

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Chapter Two of my Welcome to Night Vale fic, Durian Kisses!

Janice looked increasingly excited as they neared the lab, and Carlos couldn't help but return her eager smile. Making ice cream was going to be fun, but showing off the lab to a curious little girl was already making him feel proud.

"So, you like science?" he asked, pulling into a parking spot.

"Oh, yes!" Janice's face lit up. "I've been watching Cosmos and it's really neat. Steve says there was another Cosmos a long time ago but he never got the chance to see it so he's glad I get to watch it now."

Hunh - so Steve Carlsberg wasn't just some kind of ogre who denied little girls their favorite fruit. He lead her into the lab, expecting it to be empty, but Rebecca was there, bent over a microscope as usual. "Not going to Karaoke Friday?" That had become a kind of tradition among the scientists - one Carlos was always glad to find an excuse to avoid.

"Not until I live down trying to do a solo version of Bohemian Rhapsody," she said with a wry grin. Noticing Carlos wasn't alone, she straightened up and brushed ineffectually at a smudge on her labcoat. "Are you Janice?" she asked.

Janice nodded shyly, staring at the microscope in fascination.

Noticing her intent gaze, Rebecca grinned. "I'm Rebecca. Have you used a microscope before? Would you like to take a look?"

"Oooh, can I? I've only seen microscopes on TV. I mean - I mean it's nice to meet you and yes, please, I would like to look!"

Carlos took the durian from her without waiting to be asked and she dashed eagerly to get a look at and through the microscope. Rebecca adjusted the microscope to allow for a shorter observer. Janice practically bounced her way to where Rebecca stood.

"I like your necklace," Rebecca said, noticing the Star of David Janice wore on a delicate gold chain. "It's like mine, see?"

"Thank you," Janice said automatically, and then, "You're the one who showed Carlos how to make matzoh balls, aren't you? My uncle told me someone showed him how."

"Good deduction! You're right." Rebecca gave the girl a conspiratorial grin. "And you're the one who was selling the Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookies! I need to buy more next year, I thought I had plenty and I've almost finished them. But you don't want to talk about that, you want to see the microscope." She stepped aside, giving Janice plenty of room.

Even with the eyepiece lowered, Janice had to stand on her toes to look down into the microscope. "Wow," she breathed. "What is it?"

"It's a soil sample," Rebecca told her. "Or, really, a sand sample. I've been comparing samples from different locations."

"Hey, I think I see a piece of shed snakeskin!" The girl sounded delighted.

"Well spotted," Rebecca said, sounding honestly impressed. "It's not a big enough piece for me to be sure what kind of snake it came from but from the size, probably not very big. Are you interested in snakes?"

Janice looked up, beaming. "I have a snake. Her name is Tiffany. She's a Strawberry Amel corn snake."

"Carlos, you didn't tell me she was a budding herpetologist!" She looked at Janice with interest. "I know what corn snakes are, but I don't know what Strawberry Amel is. Is it a special kind?"

Janice was glowing with pride. "It's a special color morph. I have a book on corn snake color morphs but it's old so it doesn't say what genes make a Strawberry corn but amel is amelanistic." She pronounced the word with care. "She's pink."

Carlos was interested as well. "One of my college roommates had a corn snake he called a ghost corn. I don't know much about corn snakes either, does your book have those?"

Delighted, Janice nodded. "I saw pictures of them and they look cool! You get one by breeding an... anry... I can't pronounce it but they don't have any red color that regular corn snakes have. Anyway you breed it with a hyp.. hypomelanistic snake. So it has the pattern of a regular corn snake but faint and on a pale background." It was clear she had no doubt the two scientists would know the terms she'd learned.

Babysitting was turning out to be more fun than Carlos had expected. He hadn't spent all that much time around kids and it would be nice to be able to praise Janice's intelligence to Cecil. "It sounds like you really paid attention to that book! I bet learning about different kinds of corn snakes would be a good way to get familiar with genetics. Do you want to spend more time looking at the microscope or do you want to start making ice cream?"

Janice looked torn for a moment, but they'd had a mission she was looking forward to completing. "Thank you Rebecca," she remembered to say, before running to Carlos' side. "Can we make the ice cream now?"

He'd assembled everything they'd need while Janice was talking to Rebecca. The durian looked like it would take a machete to open. Fortunately, they kept a few in the lab; Night Vale had no shortage of things that needed to be fended off. "Janice, is there a special way to cut this open?"

She was looking at the machete with admiration. "You could cut it open really quick with that! I got a knife when I joined the Girl Scouts but it takes a lot longer. You can just hack it in half."

It sounded simple enough. Carlos swung the machete, and the feel of the durian giving way was viscerally satisfying. Then he started to smell it. The odor was foul, like the liquid at the bottom of a dumpster full of rotting onions. "Augh - I'm sorry, Janice, this one must have gone bad-"

"That's what durian is supposed to smell like," she said happily.

"That's durian all right," Rebecca called from her microscope. "My ex-boyfriend was a big fan of the stuff."

"Is your uncle Cecil going to be all right with this in his apartment?" Carlos was beginning to understand why Steve Carlsberg would object to the stuff.

"Uncle Cecil loves durian," Janice said happily. "I wouldn't know about it if he hadn't let me try some." She pinched a bit of the soft yellowish interior and lifted it to her mouth happily. The texture looked a bit like soft cheese. "Are you going to try some?"

"Do it for science!" Rebecca teased, without looking up from the microscope.

Cursing Rebecca in his thoughts, he forced a smile. "I probably should, if it's a favorite of Cecil's," he said, and took hold of the slippery stuff. It smelled much stronger up close. With an effort of will, he put it in his mouth, and the rotting-onion odor became a rotting-onion taste.

It must have showed on his face. "You don't like it," Janice said sadly.

"More for you and Cecil," Carlos said cheerfully. "Let's make this ice cream." He'd assembled the ingredients and tools while she'd been talking to Rebecca. "You pour in the sugar and I'll add the cream, then I'll put in the vanilla and you can put in the durian."

They mixed everything in a big metal bowl and then Carlos handed Janice a pair of safety goggles and thick gloves. "Now it's time to add the cold," he said. This part would be fun.

Eyes wide and curious, Janice put on the goggles and gloves. "What are we going to do?"

"Liquid nitrogen," Carlos told her, gratified by her awed expression. "I'll need you to keep stirring and I'll pour it in slowly. Does that sound okay? Just keep stirring and don't stop until I say."

She nodded eagerly, the goggles hiding her face, and began stirring. Carlos donned goggles and gloves as well and picked up the insulated metal cylinder he'd prepared earlier. Opening it carefully, he poured the clear liquid into the bowl, clouds of cold vapor billowing up around them.

"This is so cool!" Janice gasped, but remembered to keep stirring. "I heard about liquid nitrogen on TV but I never thought I'd see it. This is gonna be the most awesome ice cream ever!"

Her reaction was gratifying, and Carlos realized he was enjoying babysitting. "It's certainly the quickest way to make it," he said diplomatically, never wanting to taste durian again. The liquid nitrogen poured, he nodded in approval. "Let's pack it up now and go to your uncle's place. I think I have a nice surprise for you."
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