Friday, May 4, 2012

A Confident Woman, Part 1

The young woman walked briskly down the cobblestone lane, the assurance in her stride masking the uncertainty in her face. She stopped in front of an undistinguished door and checked the house number against a sheet of paper in her hand. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door.

Her parents were disappointed with her insistence on answering the help-wanted advertisement. They ensured she received as good an education as possible for a girl, but they did so under the assumption that she would use her skills to enchant a suitable husband. Though she was not averse to the idea in the abstract, she was less enthralled with the choices available to her. Perhaps, she reflected, she preferred to see what the world - or, if not the world, at least Caledon - what the world had to offer before starting a family.

The door opened slowly, revealing a pale man in a white lab coat. "Yes?" He drew the word out to several syllables.

She touched her reticule for reassurance and said nervously, "I'm here to interview for the position you advertised. You are Dr. Bak, are you not?"

He opened the door wider and bowed slightly. "I am. You're here for the laboratory assistant position? Excellent." He bade her enter the anteroom. "Welcome, my dear."

She walked into the narrow foyer. Panelled doors led off in every direction. An unpleasant burning smell lingered in the air. As Dr. Bak closed the door, she studied her prospective employer. He appeared to be in his late 50s with a shock of white hair. His face bore a slightly maniacal expression.

"Shall we get started?" the scientist asked, a hand gesturing to a door to her right.

"With the interview?"

"With the job. I'm afraid my previous assistant left us quite unexpectedly and I have experiments that cannot wait." He walked through the door as though there was no question about her willingness to follow. She wanted to ask the scientist what the job paid, what the hours were, why the previous assistant left unexpectedly, and so many more questions, but she was afraid. She had found few jobs for women with no experience, and, though this one was a trolley ride and lengthy walk away from her home, she did not want to lose the opportunity, so she meekly nodded and followed the scientist through the door.

The door led to a set of stairs heading down to the cellar. The burning smell became stronger as they descended, mixed with the earthy, mildewy smell of cellars. At the bottom, the stairway opened into a large room configured as a laboratory. To the right were a number of beakers filled with unearthly colored liquids along side a disused distillation column; to the left was an operating table, freshly washed, with a set of workman's clothes on top. A number of electrical leads sat on the table, connected to a large generator that sat in the corner of the room. The generator hummed and occasionally threw out a spark.

"This is my laboratory, naturally. You will be working here with me." He looked at her from head to toe, as though judging her height, then gestured to the clothes on the operating table. "Put those on, please." She looked horrified at the thought. At her hesitation, Dr. Bak said, "Quickly now."


He let out an exasperated sigh. "There is a small room off to the side. You can change there. And don't be silly, girl; I have no interest in you sexually." She gasped at his choice of words, but nodded acceptance. She picked up the clothes and walked into the closet to change. She removed the bustle, overskirt, and underskirt, and put the trousers over her bloomers. She shed her bolero jacket, placing the workman's shirt over her corset and blouse. The trousers were loose, but stayed over her hips.

Dr. Bak looked up briefly as she returned to the laboratory. "Excellent. Now we may begin. Please lie on the table."

"I thought I was to assist you in your experiments."

"Oh, indeed you are. But we cannot go on like this, with your constant challenges to my authority. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed."

"Yes, Dr. Bak," she replied meekly, and made her way to the table. What have I gotten myself into?

The scientist applied a viscous fluid to the electrodes and taped them to various parts of her body. Her eyes widened in fear as he took two sturdy leather straps and placed them across her body, buckling her in tightly. "Science, my dear, is a harsh mistress. She releases her mysteries only reluctantly, after much sacrifice. One tries, fails, and tries again. Eventually her secrets succumb." She tried to scream, but nothing more than a whimper escaped. "Oh yes, that reminds me." He placed a gag in her mouth. "This is not for the benefit of the neighbors, mind you. The walls are well-insulated and no amount of screaming will rouse them. No, it's for my benefit. Screaming disturbs my concentration."

He moved to the generator and grasped the lever that would tie the electrodes into the circuit. "I am convinced that a suitably-applied voltage, though it will stop the heart, will maintain brain activity indefinitely. My first few tries were unsuccessful - too much voltage, I'm afraid - and nothing was left functioning. I think I've got it right now. I have instruments that will monitor brain activity. Of course, the next step is to devise a way to communicate directly with the brain. Who knows? If all goes well, we will speak again." She thrust her weight to one side and then the other in a wild attempt to free herself, but the straps held her fast. The scientist threw the lever. The electrostatic hum rose louder and the burning smell intensified.

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