He turned around in his chair and presented the device to her, offering it up like a supplicant kneeling before his god. Trina plucked it from his hand, held it before her face, squinted as she examined it.
“It’s smaller than I was expecting.”
“It’s to specification.”
She sniffed and rolled EAR between her fingers. Without another word she tilted her head to the side, pulled her hair behind her, and begin the process of sliding the device into its appointed place.
“Pinch and roll it,” Robert offered. “Like with earplugs. You don’t need to—“
“Robert, I’m the one who insisted the exterior be made of silicone. I think I know what to do with it.”
Robert took in a sharp breath of air, held it, counted out a few seconds before responding. If this thing worked the way it was supposed to, that’d be the last time Trina Kurtz ever snapped at an employee just for being helpful. “Of course. My apologies.”
The device disappeared. She pushed it in deeper with a finger then let her hair fall back into place. She stood there in silence, Robert staring up at her waiting for her reaction. If it worked, he’d be able to tell.
Trina’s brow furrowed in irritation. “It hurts.”
“It’s burrowing a bit deeper so it can better interface with the nervous system. Remember, it’s meant to be applied by a doctor or a trained technician. Someone who can provide a local anesthetic before installing it.”
Her eyes screwed shut, her face twisted in pain, but to her credit, she didn’t make any noise beyond a grunt or shed any tears. Robert allowed himself a small smile. He’d give it a few moments, then test it.
She opened her eyes and looked around. The miniature assemblers should already be secreting the proper hormones and chemicals, rewiring the neurons of her brain.
A gasp of wonder escaped from between her lips. “This is amazing,” she said.
“You’re pleased with the display, the interface?”
She nodded. “I can’t believe you did this. Robert, this is going to change the world.”
“It’ll change the world for our business leaders and politicians, you mean.”
She shook her head. “No. Everyone. Everyone needs this. Wave two will have to make EAR more affordable, more user-friendly.”
She went on. Robert nodded along, convinced that his design had worked, that her brain chemistry had been forever altered to make her more generous, more empathetic, less selfish. And if it worked on her, it would work on all of them. Every CEO, every senator, every dictator.
“Trina, I think I need a vacation.”
She nodded. “Absolutely. As long and as hard as you’ve worked on SMILE and then EAR, you deserve a month off. Hell, we’ll pay for it. PomM will pay for it.”
Robert drew back, blinked in surprise. “Wait, really?”
“Robert, you’re going to make us rich. Richer than ever before. We can fly you around the goddamn world twice and it’ll be a drop in the bucket compared to what we’re going to make over the next five years.”
“Don’t argue with me, Robert. I’m being nice to you.”
Robert watched in stunned silence as Trina’s gaze darted around the room, controlling the artificial HUD with her thoughts and gestures. She was smiling. She was playing. She was happier than he’d ever seen her before.
“Okay. Thank you so much, Trina.”
“My pleasure, Robert. Go home. Take the rest of the week off. Come back on Monday and we’ll work on a list of who should get the first run of EARs.”
“I thought you already had a list in mind.”
“I do, but I’m open to suggestions.”
Robert grinned. “Of course. I’ll see you on Monday, Trina.”
She nodded, her vision locked on the world that only existed before her. Robert slid a few papers into his messenger bag, rose from his seat, made his way towards the door.
He had his hands on it, when she called out after him, her voice as firm and cold as granite. “Oh, Robert. One more thing.”
His heart sank into his chest. It hadn’t worked at all. It’d just been excitement. Her happiness had been thinking about the money. It was all a failure. He turned and looked over his shoulder. “Yes, Trina?”
She stood there smiling. She stepped forward and shook his hand. The handshake became a pat on the shoulder became a hug. Trina Kurtz had never hugged anyone before that he had seen. “Merry Christmas, Robert. And have a happy new year.”
Robert said nothing. Trina laughed, put her hand on his chin, worked his jaw like he was a puppet. “Thanks, Trina. You too,” she said in a preposterous baritone.
He shook his head free, stammered a moment. She laughed again. “Go home, Robert. Relax. See your kids. Be happy.”
“Yes. You too.”
“I will. We all will.”
Merry Christmas, world. Be here tomorrow for something new, and sleep well.