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Chapter 3
Alternate Relationships

Nothing Subtle About Fools

by FREDERICA VON McTOAST-HYPHEN, Alternate Reality News Service People Writer

It’s a tingling on the scalp that feels as if ants were crawling all over your head. (I know, I know – who would want to be part of the control group that had ants crawling all over their heads? It’s amazing what some people will do for science…or $137.)

This is the effect of the Archeron Institute’s Cranial Mortification Transducer (which has been marketed to the public as the Well Met Hellmet). In some circumstances, it might actually be beneficial to the wearer, although this is a matter of debate among neurologists and relationship advice columnists.

The Well Met Hellmet monitors brain activity, focusing on the area of the brain that becomes active just before a person is about to make a cognitive error. “That sucker lights up like a Christmas tree,” Archeron Institute Researcher Alanna Montana commented. “There’s nothing subtle about somebody about to make a fool of himself!”

The Well Met Hellmet was originally marketed to businesspeople, whose stake in not making fools of themselves in meetings should be obvious. There was resistance, however, as employees who were asked to wear it were stigmatized as having poor social skills.

The Archeron Institute’s initial response to this apparent roadblock was to design the Well Met Hellmets with lifelike skin and hair so that they would appear to be a natural part of the wearer’s head. “Yeah, no, that was a disaster,” Montana admitted with an uncomfortable laugh. “They looked like Star Trek characters. You know, the ones with the high foreheads – the ones in the pilot episode? Boy, I wish our designers had been wearing the helmet when they came up with that idea!”

The solution to the problem was, as it turned out, much simpler: point out that the Well Met Hellmets were for employees who may be socially inept, but who were too valuable to the company to be fired. Overnight, the Well Met Hellmet became a symbol of superior intelligence among knowledgeable middle management workers. (It never caught on with senior managers, probably because, by definition, they never make mistakes.)

Despite this change in corporate perception, the market for Well Met Hellmets remained small until Georgio von Porgio, an intern at the Barton Burton Mastectomy law firm, wore it on a date. “Yeah, well,” von Porgio explained, “I was never good at talking to broa – oww – I mean, chi – oww – ba – oww! – women? Yeah, women. I thought, you know, this might help me sco – oww – well, I’m sure you get the picture.”

Within a year, Well Met Hellmets were flying off the shelves, bought by single women who would only go on dates with men who agreed to wear them. “You would not believe how much dinner conversation improved!” enthused Melanie MacElhaney, an early social user. “No more talk about sports, rude comments about parts of my anatomy, rude comments about parts of the anatomy of other women in the restaurant – it was like being out with my girlfriends!”

There were dates where she had to carry the conversation, MacElhaney admitted, and five minute silences were not uncommon. On balance, though, she preferred those dates to the ones she previously had been on.

Men, on the other hand, were not as impressed. Anonymous pickups in bars dropped precipitously. Membership in singles clubs that promised “Well Met Hellmet-free dating” soared.

Then, men started showing up at dates with their own Well Met Hellmet. Nobody knows who the first man who modified the device was (although he almost certainly came from Akron, Ohio). Instead of sending a shock to the scalp, the modified headgear sent a shock down the spine. A not entirely unpleasant shock. In fact, a shock that felt mildly like a familiar male pleasure.

“The last thing we had in mind when we created the Well Met Hellmet was that it would give users artificial orgasms!” Montana commented. With a sigh, she added: “But, this is what the marketplace demanded… I bought my second house in France with royalties from the sale of modified Well Met Hellmets to male customers…”

At first, this seemed like the perfect compromise that would please both men and women. However, when making mistakes became a pleasurable activity, men started going out of their way to do so. “It was terrible!” MacElhaney stated. “Not only did men go back to being pigs, but they now alternated between stuttering and wearing a goofy grin!”

Rumour on the dating scene is that the Archeron Institute is developing a wireless device for women that would turn the pleasurable spinal excitation of the Well Met Hellmet back into a mild source of pain. “I don’t mean to knock it,” Montana responded when asked about the rumour. “I mean, I’ve just started collecting vintage cars. Still, I gotta wonder if maybe men and women wouldn’t be better off just – I don’t know – accepting their differences and learning to live with each other…”

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