Author: David Barber
This wasn’t Frankie’s usual catch-up with his shrink, this was his annual review. If he could convince them he’d learned his lesson, they’d remove his conscience.
Turned out it wasn’t the usual guy, but a woman in her mid-thirties, good-looking, but frosty. He knew the sort.
Careful, his jiminy warned.
He’d always had a thing for clever women. He waited, but there was no comment. Nothing wrong with that it seemed, though Frankie couldn’t see the difference himself.
“I’m Dr Copeland.”
She gave him a wintery smile, then glanced at a screen, at the data being downloaded from his jiminy.
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“…coping with your artificial conscience, Mr Franklin?” the woman was saying.
“Well,” he began carefully. He’d learned the hard way that his sentence…
It’s not a sentence, interrupted his jiminy.
…his therapy, could be extended indefinitely if behavioural targets weren’t met. And it paid for itself with ads.
“Like when I came in, I thought, she’s a looker and jiminy slapped me down.” He gave her his best smile. “But hey, I still think you’re an attractive woman. Trick is to discriminate between advice and prohibition.”
“An answer straight from the manual.”
He gave himself a pat on the back.
“So, describe a situation where you found yourself in conflict with your artificial conscience.”
That woman, he thought, before he could stop himself.
“I see from your data you’ve thought of an example.”
“Other night, in a bar,” he said reluctantly. He knew he should fake something up, but his mind had gone blank.
“She was giving me the eye, and I thought…” He began to feel dizzy.
“But when I went over, she just brushed me off. I mean, why would she do that?”
“And how did that make you feel?”
He could taste bile at the back of his throat.
“Ah, excuse me a moment. The sunlight.” She got up and stretched to adjust the blinds. He hadn’t expected her to be wearing such a tight skirt.
“So enticement, then rejection. Though surely any woman has the right to say no?”
“I see what you’re doing,” he said thickly, his head pounding. “Seeing if I lose it.”
“And do you think a woman should be punished if she doesn’t like you?”
The roaring in his ears grew.
You know the answer to that one, prompted jiminy.
“You’ve also expressed negative opinions about your artificial conscience.” She consulted her screen. “In your first review session, you said, It’s like being in chains.”
He wanted to wipe that sanctimonious look from her face. All he had to do was grab her and…
She studied him, then tapped out some notes.
Slowly the jiminy relaxed its grip on his muscles. The rage was somewhere else, burning up someone else.
“This isn’t right,” he said, helplessly, tears blurring his vision.
“We’ll keep on with the therapy for another year,” she announced.
She turned off her screen and fixed him with a gaze that didn’t seem at all professional.
“Those women you attacked, Mr Franklin. Didn’t they have rights?”
Light on the surface with a very dark underbelly. Nicely done.