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The Lancelot Effect, страница 1


The Lancelot Effect

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The Lancelot Effect

  The Lancelot Effect

  By Mark Finnemore

  Copyright 2011 Mark Finnemore


  “I can trace all of our problems back to that one day. Back to that one second actually – the moment Gwen saw her kiss me.”

  Doctor Marshall nodded and scratched some notes into his digital notepad. “This other woman, why did you kiss her?”

  Jack Paladin frowned at the doctor’s image on his computer screen. He considered breaking the connection, but this guy was his last chance to keep Gwen from leaving him.

  “I didn’t kiss her,” Paladin said. “She kissed me. On the cheek. Not even a real kiss.”

  Dr. Marshall looked up from his notepad. “And why did you and Gwen get married with this problem unresolved?”

  Paladin hadn’t noticed before, but Doc-Marshall had a vague accent – British, maybe Austrian? Whichever, it sounded fake; probably digitally-enhanced to make his voice sound more soothing. In Paladin’s case it wasn’t working.

  “I thought it was resolved,” Paladin said. “She hadn’t brought it up lately. I figured getting married meant she agreed it was nothing.”

  Dr. Marshall nodded. “And why were you with this other woman?”

  Paladin shook his head and blew out a sigh. Doc-Marshall seemed slow to grasp the point here. But what’d he expect from a guy Roxanne had found on-line at PsychiatryConnection.com? Rumor was some guy in Florida had licensed his iguana as a therapist just by paying the state fifty bucks. These days, who knew what was what?

  “She’s not ‘this other woman’”, Paladin said. “She’s my ex-wife.”

  “Oh.” Dr. Marshall pushed up his glasses. “Tell me more.”

  Paladin shook his head. “It was nothing. She just needed my help.”

  Dr. Marshall nodded. "What do you suppose came first, Mr. Paladin, the damsel-in-distress or the knight-in-shining armor?"

  Paladin stared at the image of the doctor on his computer screen. "What the hell, Doc? I got serious problems here and you give me riddles?"

  “Did she really need your help?” Dr. Marshall asked. “Or did you need to help her?”

  Outside Paladin’s window a lawnmower started up. He pushed the curtain aside. As Doc-Marshall waited on his computer screen, Paladin watched his neighbor’s new maintenance bot push the mower across the lawn. He shook his head. Damned waxers weren't even reliable yet. Hell, the SPCA already had a flood of reports about accidentally-minced cats.

  Paladin dropped the curtain and turned back to his computer. “Listen, Doc, I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s not the problem here. The problem is Gwen thinks we were kissing and I can’t convince her she’s wrong. What I need you to do is erase the event from her mind so everyone can move forward and live happily ever after.”

  Dr. Marshall shook his head. “Erasing memories isn’t safe, Mr. Paladin. There are just too many other memories built around the offending memory to make it feasible. Not without damaging the subject’s underlying personality.”

  “But she’s gonna leave me, Doc!”

  “I am sorry to hear that. Maybe I should refer you to my partner for relationship counseling?”

  Paladin wasn’t a psychologist, but he’d learned plenty about reading people while running a successful time-management and consulting company. Clearly Doc-Marshall and his partner didn’t want to lose a sale here. “I would love that Doc, seriously I would, but unfortunately I don’t have the time right now with my business picking up. I’m sure you and your partner can understand that?”

  Doc Marshall nodded sympathetically.

  Paladin smiled. “And since delegation is the key to successful time management, I’m delegating this to you. I know you can do it.”

  Dr. Marshall waved his hand. “But I’m not—”

  “You’re a pharma-psychologist, so you are the right man for the job. And money isn’t a problem. I’ll double your fee. I’ll triple it! And as a consultant for some top firms, I know lots of other busy people who don’t have the time to spend months talking about their feelings and their childhood and all that. If you do a good job here, it’ll mean big business for you and your partner, Doc – huge business!”

  Dr. Marshall’s expression softened. “Well, maybe a synth-ox regimen would work.”

  Paladin made a face.

  “Synthetic oxytocin,” Dr. Marshall explained. “Oxytocin is a hormone that creates the attachment between infant and mother and between mother and infant. Synth-ox harnesses that maternal instinct to make people more trusting and attached to others. It’s used mainly in adoption cases, but it might work here.”

  Paladin leaned forward. “This’ll make Gwen trust me again?”

  Dr. Marshall shook his head. “It won’t make her trust you; it enhances the natural trust between people. To quantify it, let’s say that after this kissing incident Gwen trusts you sixty-five percent. Ideally, synth-ox therapy can increase that to ninety-five percent when combined with—”

  “A thirty-percent boost in trust!”

  “Up to thirty percent,” Dr. Marshall said. “If properly administered you should be able to count on a twenty-percent, um, ‘boost’, at the very least.”

  Paladin leaned back and smiled for the first time in months. “This is great, Doc! Perfect! Let’s do it!”

  Dr. Marshall pushed up his glasses. “Synth-ox is administered via scent, so I can transmit a program for your computer’s scent-emitters, but I recommend incense, or, even better, candles combined with a romantic dinner to add some organic feelings to the equation.”

  Paladin held up a hand. “Unfortunately I don’t have time for all that right now, Doc – just go ahead and send me the scent program.”


  The smell of brewing coffee and toasting toast drifted into Jack Paladin’s office via his computer’s scent-emitters. Doc-Marshall probably meant the smells to be soothing, but it just reminded Paladin that he hadn’t eaten yet.

  “Good morning, Mr. Paladin.”

  Paladin shook his head. “No, Doc, unfortunately it’s not. That ox-stuff didn’t work. Gwen still doesn’t trust me.”

  Dr. Marshall looked over the top of his steel-rimmed glasses. “As we discussed before, this isn’t a magic potion. Oxytocin only gives you up to a thirty percent trust ‘boost’, to use your term. Gwen still needs some reason to trust you naturally. You still have to earn her trust and build on it.”

  Paladin sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “I guess we need to try something else then.”

  “Have you considered trying this the old fashioned way – you know, with love and caring and communication?” It might be Paladin’s imagination, but it seemed Doc-Marshall kicked the fake accent up a notch when it suited him. Definitely digitally-enhanced. “Have I mentioned that my partner is a fully-qualified relationship counselor?”

  Paladin held up a hand. “I told you I don’t have time for that right now, Doc. I wish I did, but I don’t.”

  Dr. Marshall leaned on his desk and tented his fingers. “Maybe we should give you the synth-ox as well. Maybe that would help you develop more loving feelings toward Gwen.”

  “You’re not giving me that stuff!” Paladin pushed back his chair. “And anyway, I already do love Gwen.”

  “If you love Gwen so much, who’s she?” Dr. Marshall’s finger thrust out of the screen to point behind Paladin.

  Paladin turned. Behind him stood a buxom brunette in a tight black skirt and a white blouse with one-too-many buttons undone to be considered strictly professional. Paladin laughed. “That’s not a who, Doc, that’s a what. That’s just Roxanne, my Holographic Personal Assistant. I couldn’t run my business without her. Delegation’s the key to successful time manage
ment, you know.”

  Dr. Marshall nodded. “So you’ve said. But why settle for a holograph? They make remarkably-natural android bodies these days. You can hardly tell the difference.”

  Paladin shook his head. “From what I hear the programming’s still wonky. Guy down in Atlanta last month, his waxer went berserk and—”

  “Nonsense!” Dr. Marshall waved a dismissive hand. “Horror stories propagated by ignorance. And must you use that term – waxer? It’s very offensive.”

  Roxanne’s image faded away with a scowl and a mumbled curse, but Paladin didn’t notice.

  “Let’s just get back to the issue here,” Paladin said. “What’re we gonna do about Gwen?”

  Dr. Marshall shrugged. “Well, I suppose in addition to continuing the synth-ox regimen – and I suggest you try the dinner and the candles this time – we could also try implanted memories.”

  “You said erasing memories was too dangerous.” Paladin shook his head. “Adding them isn’t?”

  “It’s complicated.” Dr. Marshall pushed up his glasses. “The brain still isn’t fully understood. But think of a computer. You’ve added software programs onto your computer, right? It's easy. The program knows what to do and installs itself where it needs to go. But try to take one out and it’s spread itself into everything and it's a big mess. Sometimes the computer never works the same after.”

  Paladin nodded. He had to have Roxanne re-booted just last month after he tried to make some alterations to her new upgrades.

  “Implanted memories are mostly used for eating disorders,” Dr. Marshall continued. “We introduce two types of memories: unpleasant ones about unhealthy foods, and pleasant ones about healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. In your case I thought we’d implant Gwen with more pleasant memories about you.”

  “Sounds good,” Paladin said. “So, how do we do it?”

  “We can’t do this over the Hypernet,” Dr. Marshall said. “Gwen will have to come to my office.”

  Paladin shook his head. “She’ll never agree.”

  “Tell her I’m your relationship counselor,” Dr. Marshall suggested. “She’ll think you’re making an attempt at change.”


  Dr. Marshall looked at Paladin over the rim of his glasses, as if reluctant to view him in focus. “How are things going with Gwen?”

  Paladin frowned at the doctor’s image on his computer screen. “Not good, Doc. And now she hates my HPA for some reason.”

  “Ah, yes, Roxanne,” Dr. Marshall said. “I wonder why Gwen would hate her.”

  “Exactly! I mean it’s just lights and electronics!” Paladin shook his head and snorted. “She did speak highly of you though.”

  “Did she?” Dr. Marshall raised an eyebrow and then cleared his throat. “Well, you know you can program your HPA as a man, or at very least a more appropriately-dressed woman. Mine’s set up as a talking rabbit.”

  “This isn’t a joke, Doc, this is my life. Be serious.”

  “I am serious,” Dr. Marshall said. “I’ve met Gwen several times during our memory implant sessions and she’s a remarkable woman – beautiful, intelligent, funny. I can’t believe she’s the cause of all your relationship problems. And she doesn’t deserve to be treated like she is. Maybe you need to look at yourself.”

  Paladin shook his head. “I tell you, Doc, she’s being the unreasonable one here. She’s like an unforgiving computer – she remembers everything! Every time some little thing comes up, she drags up every other little thing that ever happened!”

  “Like the kiss you didn’t participate in.”

  “Exactly!” Paladin said. “It’s like it’ll never go away no matter what I do. You see I’m trying here, right?”

  “Have you tried apologizing?”

  Paladin coughed out a humorless laugh. “Of course! Hundreds of times. But she still won’t let it go. Me, I’m over it; it’s in the past. But she can’t move forward.”

  Dr. Marshall sighed. “What do you think you should do?”

  “Well, how about that thing you mentioned the first day,” Paladin said, “the thing about erasing memories?”

  Dr. Marshall shook his head. “I told you that was extremely dangerous!”

  Paladin nodded. “But you could do it?”

  Dr. Marshall pushed up his glasses. “You’d risk damaging Gwen’s personality?”

  Paladin shrugged. “Her current one isn’t helping.”


  Sunlight coming through Dr. Marshall’s window lanced through Paladin’s monitor and into his eyes, increasing an already-pounding headache. “You little sneak!”

  “What do you mean, Mr. Paladin?”

  Paladin stabbed his finger at Dr. Marshall’s image. “You know what I mean. You stole my wife with all your oxy-what’s-it and memory implants!”

  Dr. Marshall shook his head. “That’s not it at all. You were willing to sacrifice Gwen’s well-being for your own selfish needs. I couldn’t let that happen.”

  Paladin threw up his hands. “Oh, so you’re blaming me for you stealing my wife?”

  “You’ve got a lot of personal issues to work on,” Dr. Marshall said in his infuriatingly-soothing accent. “I urge you to see my partner. You’ll be a happier man. Trust me.”

  “Trust you?” Paladin cocked his head toward the scent-emitters on his computer. “You used your synth-ox on me! You drugged me, made me screw it up with Gwen so you could steal her away! That was your plan all along!”

  Dr. Marshall spread his hands in appeal. “Mr. Paladin, you know your problems with Gwen started long before you hired me. That’s why you hired me. Now listen. Please. I’m trying to help you. You should talk to my partner, Dr. Chevalier.”


  Dr. Chevalier scratched some notes into his digital notepad and then looked over the rims of his glasses. “Tell me what happened. Start from the beginning.”

  “I thought I was rescuing her. At least that’s what I told myself. I convinced myself I was her knight-in-shining-armor, but maybe I was just a selfish thief.”

  Dr. Chevalier pushed up his glasses. “You realize how ridiculous this is, don’t you?”

  “Yes.” Dr. Marshall pushed up his own glasses and nodded. “Not only did I fall victim to the Lancelot Effect, but with a client’s wife for Pete’s sake!”

  “That’s not what I’m talking about.” Dr. Chevalier shook his head. “I’m talking about the fact that you’re just my android personal assistant – you’re just a machine!”

  Dr. Chevalier terminated the program and Dr. Marshall’s synthetic body slumped over. What a terrible mess this all was! He should’ve kept a closer eye on this little experiment, but who had the time? Obviously, some of the program’s settings were out of whack. Maybe the financial-incentive priority was set too high? Maybe the ethical priorities were too low? But he wasn’t a computer programmer for Pete’s sake!

  He should sue the software company, that’s what he should do! Better yet, he should sue the consultant who convinced him that delegation was the key to successful time management. He dug through his wallet and pulled out a business card: Paladin Consulting. A good attorney should be able to come up with some sort of transfer of liability theory to pass on at least some of the responsibility here to Jack Paladin.

  But he hoped this wouldn’t reflect badly on Mr. Paladin’s assistant, Roxanne. She’d seemed like a bright young girl with plenty of potential. Sure, she obviously had some self-esteem and body-image confusion, but maybe he could offer her a job, help her find herself?

  Dr. Chevalier’s secretary buzzed him on the intercom. “Excuse me sir, but there’s a Gwen here to see Dr. Marshall. She says it’s extremely urgent.”

  “Gwen?” The name sounded vaguely familiar. Whoever she was, he couldn’t just ignore a woman in need. “All right, send her in. . . .”


  About the author:

  Mark lives in California with his beautiful wife Panji, who helped him l
earn that even the rockiest road can lead to a happy ending. Mark is currently working on a novel entitled "Love & Taxes", which he hopes will one day be not only finished, but published and found at your local book store as well.

  Visit Mark at www.mythic-picnic.com or www.genre-trash.com.

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