Dr. Franklin Stein peered over the rim of his spectacles and squinted at the display on his latest invention, a Physio-Energetic Transposer, or PET, device. The numbers and needles on the dial were a blur, as if they were swimming in lard. Frustration expanded his chest as though it were a balloon on the brink of bursting. He slammed a fist on the laboratory bench and let loose a string of expletives not meant for delicate ears.
He could not work, and it was his own bloody fault! How could he have neglected to order new spectacles? How could he tell President Grant about the delay?
The President would not be pleased with the man his Cabinet members had nicknamed Pet Scientist in Chief. Franklin hated to disappoint the one man who had staunchly supported his wide-ranging research efforts over the past five years.
A soft rap on the door made his stomach clench. He’d believed his new bride, Prudence, to be outside in the garden when he had given into his frustration. Had his coarse language offended her? If only his unique intelligence allowed him to navigate the intricacies of human society with a modicum of grace. But he was the metaphorical bull in the China shop of Society.
Heaving a sigh, he crossed the laboratory in two long strides and flung open the door. The sight of Prue’s beatific smile eased the tension in his shoulders. She seemed unaware of his recent fit of temper. She wrapped her arms around his neck, rose onto her tiptoes and then kissed him with lips as soft as butterfly wings.
As always, she took his breath away.
When she pulled back and gazed up at him through her lashes, laughter danced in her lovely violet eyes. “May I be of help, husband?”
She pressed her lips together instead of smiling, which confused him. Sometimes he felt completely at a loss with her, as if they spoke different non-verbal languages.
Several tendrils of chestnut hair had escaped her chignon to curl alongside the white column of her neck. Franklin found himself imagining what it would feel like to lift them away and kiss her where they had caressed her soft skin. Then he would sweep her off her feet and carry her into the library—
Prue tipped up her chin and raised her brows. “What in the world are you thinking, sir?”
He grinned. “Scandalous thoughts, m’dear, scandalous thoughts.”
Color rose in her cheeks. She folded her arms across her breasts and gazed at him askance. “I only wanted to help, not to distract you.”
He pulled her close, inhaling the calming scent of her flowery perfume. Lord, what did I do to deserve such a woman? She was not a typical female, frail of sensibilities and faint of heart. She helped him when his faults were a hindrance. Otherwise, she overlooked them. No longer a girl like the silly chits who’d hoped to wed him, she had come to his bed with an eagerness and generosity that had astounded him. One taste of her and he was lost forever.
“Well?” Prue said.
Franklin sighed. “I cannot read the transposer dial. I should have ordered new spectacles before the wedding.”
She smiled. “Then I can be of help. I’ll read the instruments for you so your work will not be affected. You can order the spectacles this afternoon.”
He opened his mouth to protest the need to run the errand today, but Prue’s smile melted his thoughts the way sunlight melts butter. Besides, his bride was not afraid to reveal her iron backbone when his well-being was at stake. There was no point in arguing about the spectacles.
She looped her arm through his and they walked toward the PET. Prue stopped unexpectedly and cast a puzzled glance up at him. “What happened to your seawater desalinization project? President Grant expects the results in three days.”
Franklin smiled. He enjoyed having someone intelligent with whom to discuss his work. “Not to worry. I perfected the process two days ago. The President already has my report.”
Her expression cleared. “I must visit the laboratory more frequently. What is your latest project, then?” She bent down to peer at the dial and switches on the PET’s central unit. Bundles of insulated electrical cables protruded from either side of the box for more than a yard before ending in shiny silver helmets.
“I call my new invention a Physio-Energetic Transposer, or PET. The basic idea came to me while I studied at Yale, but my experiments failed repeatedly. I needed a chemical compound with the proper biological and energetic properties for test subject preparation in order to be successful. Unfortunately, I failed to find one at that time.”
“But you’ve discovered one?” Prue said, her eyes shining.
He nodded. “The recent measles outbreak in Baltimore induced me to investigate Native herbal remedies. While searching for a plant to strengthen a person’s resistance to illness, I stumbled onto an herb known as datura. Priests and priestesses of the Indian tribes who live at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers use datura to allow their spirits to roam free of their bodies. I believe datura weakens what I call the physio-energetic bond. This may be what I need to transpose minds.”
His excitement dimmed in the face of her shocked expression. He replayed their brief conversation in his head, but could recall nothing to explain her apparently negative reaction. His shoulders slumped. “What is it?”
Prue composed her features into a smile and laid her palms against his chest. Her warm brown eyes peered up into his. “I’m sorry; I thought you said you were going to transpose minds.” She laughed as if she had told a joke.
In response to Prue laying her hands on his chest, he slid his arms around her supple waist. This was a ritual they had developed to ease them through impending disagreements. The close physical contact helped him to remain calm when he felt confused.
In this case, her reaction to his invention was not at all what he had expected. What the devil did it mean? “That is exactly what I said. The president believes the ability to transpose minds between bodies may serve the country well. That is a direct quote.”
Prue blinked. She studied him for a moment and then shook her head. “Politicians are ambitious men, which sometimes makes them shortsighted.”
Franklin blinked. His fingers tightened on her waist. It had never occurred to him that the President of the United States of America might have faults like any other man. The implications were mind-boggling. His lungs compressed.
Prue cupped his jaw in her warm, soft hand. “Don’t look so horrified, Franklin. Only God is perfect.” She dropped her gaze to the rise and fall of his chest for a moment. “You must remain calm, my dear. Breathe slowly and deeply.”
He did as she instructed. His chest gradually opened up.
She grinned, and he knew she had thought of a way to help him understand her concerns about his project. He relaxed a little.
“Better?” she said, still smiling.
He hadn’t a clue as to what was coming next, but her smile was reassuring. He smiled back. “Much.”
“Help me to understand why you want to transpose minds, other than that the President is in favor of your research. What specific good do you foresee will come of it?”
Prue would wait patiently for his answer. She understood that these sorts of questions were difficult for him to answer. He thought back to the beginning of his quest, back to his time at Yale. He couldn’t remember ever giving the outcome of his work any thought. Why was that? “Predicting the effects of my work in society is impossible.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I disagree. You may find yourself ill-equipped to do so, but I believe I can safely predict little if any good will come of these experiments.”
Franklin didn’t know how to respond. He lifted his gaze to the blank wall and processed her words. Prue believed his work would cause only harm. It was logical to assume she wanted him to quit the PET experiments—forever. The thought alone made him break into a cold sweat. Once he began a project he was like a dog with a bone until he had his answers. He could not bring himself to give up the quest when he was so close to accomplishing his goals. Could he?
Franklin searched his wife’s loving eyes for an answer. Prue had never interfered in his work until today. Nor had she given him bad advice or claimed to have skills or knowledge she did not possess. She must feel strongly about this. She loved him, therefore she wanted what was best for him. “What do you suggest?”
“How far along are you in your research?” In a rare indication of nerves, she briefly worried her full lower lip.
He focused on her mouth while he considered her question. “I have determined the PET is safe to use on guinea pigs. They seem to suffer an hour of confusion before settling into their usual patterns of behavior. But that doesn’t prove their minds were actually transposed. Guinea pigs are very similar in their general behaviors.”
The pink tip of her tongue darted out to lick her lips. He lost his train of thought.
“I suggest we purchase two dogs of differing breeds with very distinct behaviors, one well-trained to follow commands and one totally undisciplined. After we take time to become familiar with the dogs, you may attempt to transpose their minds. If you are successful, their behaviors will offer proof of success. And I have no doubt you will find my negative prediction has been verified”.
He frowned. “But you don’t approve of the PET experiments.”
“I want you to trust my judgment in these matters without reservation. Only hard experience will enable you to accept my advice. Besides, once you’ve begun a project, I am convinced you will fall ill from curiosity if not allowed find the answers you seek.” With an affectionate smile, Prue brushed a lock of hair off his forehead. “I have only one request, Franklin.”
“When you realize the wisdom of my prediction, will you destroy the PET device along with your notes, and then report that the experiment was an utter failure?”
He drew his brows together. “You want me to lie to the President?”
She shook her head. “If transposing minds causes nothing but problems, then the experiment is a failure for all practical purposes, don’t you see? Just because mankind can do something doesn’t mean we should.”
Prue’s explanation left Franklin breathless, as though he were on the brink of an epiphany but couldn’t see the next step. He was certain of only one thing. He could not stand for her to be unhappy.
“I will do as you ask. You have my word.”
Her eyes shone. “You are the dearest, sweetest man God ever put on this earth.” She pulled his head down for a kiss that burned away all logical thought.
A month later, Franklin waited in the laboratory for Sparky and Bruno, the dogs he and Prue had purchased three weeks before, to awaken from anesthesia. Each dog slept on his own pillow on the laboratory floor. Each wore a collar and chain attached to a ring set in the stone wall. They would be able to see each other, but not reach each other.
After completing the transposition, he had removed the silver helmets and tried to make the dogs comfortable. His Physio-Electric Transponder readings had indicated the datura loosened the mind-body connection in both dogs enough for the transposition to be successful. Things seemed to have gone smoothly. Only time would tell.
A soft rap on the door announced Prue’s arrival. Franklin opened the door.
His lovely wife swept into the room bearing a silver tray holding two cups of fragrant tea and a small plate of cookies. She set the tray on a workbench and then handed him a steaming cup. ““I’m so excited I can hardly breathe. Perhaps the tea will calm my nerves.”
Prue chattered when she was nervous.She had told him so.
“What about you, Franklin?” she said, smiling at him over the rim of her teacup. “Are you excited to find out if the transposition worked?”
He considered the question. His stomach was queasy. His muscles felt wound up as tightly as clock springs. His gaze dropped to Sparky’s small, inert form. His heart skipped a beat. What would the incorrigible terrier be like when he awakened?
He had never before owned a dog. The animals' companionship had been enjoyable. He and Prue played fetch with them every morning after breakfast. Bruno was the calmer of the two, obedient and prone to napping. Franklin found stroking the mastiff’s smooth coat quite soothing. Sparky’s antics made him laugh, and the little rascal had turned out to be a champion ratter. Their groom was delighted to have the terrier visit the stables.
Soft fingers grazed his cheek. He started, then offered his wife a sheepish smile. He had become lost in thought and forgotten to answer her question. “I don’t think I’m excited. I feel—twisted up inside.”
Prue sighed. “You’re worried, Franklin,” she said. “You’ve grown attached to the dogs.”
Before he could formulate a response, Bruno’s paws began to twitch.
Twenty minutes later both dogs were awake and pulling at the ends of their chains. Bruno, no longer obedient, would not stop barking and jumping around. Franklin wished he had used a larger gauge chain to secure the big dog. This one might not hold much longer..
Little Sparky had staggered around for a few minutes, stopping periodically to blink at Franklin with what felt like reproach. Then he flopped on his side on his pillow and closed his eyes.
Prue laid a hand on Franklin’s arm. She had to shout to be heard over Bruno’s barking. “I believe we have enough behavioral evidence to prove the PET device worked. The noise in here is giving me a headache. Let’s go sit in the garden.”
Franklin let her lead him outside. They sat on a warm stone bench. The air was infused with the scent of roses. Bruno’s muffled barks were clearly audible, but at least he could think again. He removed his spectacles and scrubbed his face with one hand.
Prue’s prediction had been accurate. He would never again doubt her advice. Switching the dogs between bodies was possible, but inadvisable. Dog’s emotions were relatively straightforward and thus easy for him to read. The animals were obviously unhappy. Knowing that made his heart ache. They were also ill-suited for their new bodies. Sparky-the-terrier was an incorrigible mite, while Sparky-the-mastiff was a danger to himself and others. He shuddered to think what might happen if the mastiff got loose.
Transposing people was no doubt possible, but the end result would at best break their spirits. At worst it would drive them insane. He no longer felt driven to continue with these experiments. He did not want to hurt anyone.
He donned his spectacles and then turned to his wife. The love that shone in her eyes made him feel that everything would come out alright. “I would appreciate your assistance in choosing future projects,” he said gravely.
Prue grinned. She began to unpin her hair. To his surprise, he knew exactly what she was thinking. As her hair came down, his blood heated. When the last pin came out, she rose and offered him her hand. “Transposing Sparky and Bruno back into their own bodies can wait until tomorrow. I suspect they need some rest before undergoing a second procedure. Let’s have a lie-down before dinner.”
He kissed the back of her hand, pretending he had misunderstood her intent. “You never take naps.”
She arched her brows at him and slowly unbuttoned the high collar of her white blouse, then the next button, and the next. Franklin swallowed. He could see the shadow of her décolletage and hear his blood rush in his ears.
“I do not plan to sleep,” she said.
He surged to his feet. “Neither do I.”
With that, he swept her into his arms. Her smile swelled his heart to bursting with love. As he carried her to the French doors that led to the library, he kissed her nose, her eyelids, her chin. After opening the doors, he carried her inside and deposited her on the brocade-covered settee. The air was heavy with the odors of leather and old books. He closed the doors and the heavy drapes for privacy.
“Why Dr. Stein,” Prue said from the shadows. “I do believe you have compromised me.”
“Not yet,”he said, “but I am about to, Mrs. Stein.”
© 2013 Sarah Raplee All rights reserved
© 2013 Sarah Raplee All rights reserved