The Cherry Sourball

“We’re on the air in…” Marsha Mellow checked her watch, “ninety-eight minutes. So let’s rehearse the questions. Then you can both go back to makeup.”

“Thank you, Marsha,” Senator Toggle said, his gray hair perfectly coiffed. “Before we start, I want to say—”

“We only have a few minutes, Senator, so let’s get right to Dr. Setback’s discovery.” She turned to the crew arranging the set. “How’s the lighting?” The cameraman looked out from his camera and waved. “Sound, Geoff?” The straggle-haired soundman gave a thumbs-up and propped his sandaled feet on the mixing console.

Mellow began, “Doctor Setback and his team have perfected a Smart Pill. Have I said that correctly?” She looked at the scientist.

“It’s not a pill precisely, not in the medical sense. Actually,” he projected a stack of schematics and formulas, “it’s a precisely ordered sequence of APMs, atomically precise machines, that act as catalysts to restructure neural—”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” Mellow interrupted, “our audience has a secondary-school understanding of science. Can you give them the lollypop version?” Setback looked chastised.

“My Smart Pill optimizes every human faculty,” he started again. “Saliva and sucking action in the mouth dissolves the pill to release nano, I mean, very tiny agents. From the mouth, these agents migrate to the brainstem then up to the brain. The affect is almost immediate.” Setback smiled. “We even made it cherry flavored to encourage sucking.”

Mellow leaned toward the scientist, her eyes dramatically wide. “How soon before I can expect to have encyclopedic knowledge, perfect memory, hyper-normal focus, and an expert golf swing?”

“You will have all those things and more, but pill production will be slow. My team took sixteen years to assemble this first—“

“Do you have it to show us, Doctor?” Mellow interrupted.

“It’s in the jacket I left in the car.”

“Okay, get it before we go on. For now, pretend you’re showing it to me.”

“This little pill has sixteen million agents,” he pointed to the hollow of his open hand, “each built atom by atom, and each designed specifically for one task.”

“Who gets this one?” Mellow asked, cheerily pointing to Setback’s open hand.

“Senator Toggle.” He gestured past Mellow who pivoted in her seat.

Toggle cleared his throat. “The Committee On Human Enhancement, which I chair, considers Dr. Setback’s Smart Pill to be a momentous breakthrough, perhaps the greatest in human history. Certainly it would be immoral to profit from this invention or to regulate its availability. So selecting the first recipient is a very serious responsibility. We must consider the humanitarian implications and those underserved in our community. I and my party—“

“Thank you, Senator Toggle,” Mellow said, “I think we’re ready to go.” She looked around. “Everyone take a break and get back in…” she checked her watch, “twenty-three minutes.” She looked at Setback. “Doctor, before makeup, could you bring in the pill—so we have it ready on set.”

Toggle left for the makeup room and Setback for the parking lot. Soundman Geoff gestured to the cameraman, pinching his thumb and forefinger to his pursed lips and pointing to the smoking deck. He took the sourball from his mouth and placed it on the mixer console before heading to the back door.

First to return to the set, Senator Toggle spotted Geoff’s sourball on the console. No one was around. He examined the red candy, holding it up to the light before poking it into his mouth.

“Ah, yes,” he murmured, “I knew I was the one. Everything’s so clear now. I was right all along.” He looked up savoring the cherry flavor and spreading his arms wide. “I’m the one,” he shouted and headed out the front door.

Doctor Setback walked in next with a wide-checked jacket over his arm.

“No, no, that won’t do,” Marsha Mellow said, coming in behind him. “We’ll get you another jacket. Just leave it here and go back to makeup.”

Setback removed a baggy with the red Smart Pill from the jacket, set them both on the mixing console, and followed Mellow to makeup.

At that moment, Geoff stumbled in, fell into his seat, and looked around. “Hey, Marsh’, you take my sourball? Ahh, I see it. Okay, thanks for putting it in a baggy.” He plopped the pill into his mouth. It was smaller than he remembered, but he decided not to accuse Mellow of sucking on it.

“Ready on set,” Marsha called, rushing out with Setback as the lights came up. “Now where’s Toggle?”

“I saw him running in the lot as I came in,” Geoff said, sucking vigorously.

“And where’s my Smart Pill,” Setback said, lifting the empty baggy. Geoff relaxed as he felt the pill take effect.

“I thought it was my cherry sourball,” he said. Setback’s knees buckled, and he grabbed the back of Geoff’s chair to stay upright.

“On the air,” the director said, “in eight, seven …”

“Quick, get over here,” Mellow pulled Geoff and Setback onto the set and pushed them into the seats. “Geoffrey Goodman,” she said, “you’re the first to try Doctor Setback’s Smart Pill. What do you have to say?” Her face wore a tight smile.

Slide1Geoff lifted his sandaled feet onto the coffee table. “It’s overwhelming, Marsha. Looking out from where I sit, I see it all clearly. Everyone has a special mission, a purpose, but we’re all consumed by our default settings. We treat our egos like a matter of life and death. The first thing we need to …”

From his living room recliner, Jeremy lifted the remote as he shouted to his girlfriend. “I thought Mellow had Senator Toggle scheduled for tonight.”

“Did we miss him?” Ashley called back. “I love hearing him. He really cares about us.”

Jeremy started flipping through the channels.

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