Each morning these days is its own special jolt of happy lightning. Today is no exception. Today, Bobby Ray will announce a project he’s been working on for years.
Bobby Ray's job is extraordinary, he’s a revolutionary, and the work he does is necessary. He smiles big in the mirror, saying the words to himself.
“Extraordinary, revolutionary, necessary.”
His teeth sparkle. He’s lucky, and the world is lucky to have a lucky him in it.
Until three years ago, Bobby Ray sat on the board of a think tank, an elite group of minds from around the world solving the world’s problems—a multicultural think tank with a vision of diversity and inclusion. So what if mostly white men like him ran the group? They were changing society for the better, shaking up the market, replacing predictable products with new toys and tech.
“Extraordinary, revolutionary, necessary,” Bobby Ray whispers to himself as he steps out of the shuttle from his hotel.
Out in the open, the mantra seems sillier.
His position in the think tank inspired Bobby Ray—so much he decided to turn his talents to invention, and used his capital to work alongside health industries—optometry, for instance. He paid scientists and researchers to develop his idea, and a working prototype ready to show—a rare situation for even the savviest business owners and entrepreneurs. The only remaining step was to pitch the product to a cadre of deep pockets investors and begin manufacturing.
The pitch is today. Today is the fulcrum of Bobby Ray's career. He’ll unveil his life’s work, his single shining contribution to humanity.
“Extraordinary, revolutionary, necessary.” He says it to himself again, this time on stage at the event for the unveiling of his product.
The auditorium is filled with people. All millionaires at least.
“Tell me,” he says, tapping his mic, “do you notice anything?”
There's a pause long enough that Bobby imagines his invention has failed. His pair is faulty, his presentation a no-go.
Then a woman’s voice, heartening him and breaking the tension.
“There's lights in your eyes!”
And there are: eight small, bright blue ones, four in each eye. Bobby Ray closes his eyes. They can't see the lights from behind his eyelids.
He starts his pitch.
“Most meaningful communication among and between humans is non-verbal. Sure, we have language and we have writing, but if you really want to know if someone is your friend or is trying to hurt you, you need to see their face, look into their eyes.”
Bobby Ray is excited. He opens his eyes again.
Behold: eight purple sparkling eyeball lights.
“Imagine you could tell a person’s mood by basic color recognition. There'd be no more misunderstandings. Imagine if you could always tell if someone was lying. If you could prevent the killings of innocent people over simple misunderstandings? By undergoing a simple surgery, I am now the proud first owner of a set of lights in my eyes that respond to my mood on a chromatic scale. Red indicates anger, blue hope, green selfishness, purple passion, orange anxiety, yellow fear—a whole spectrum of colors up to white, which indicates instability, when someone is likely a danger to themselves or others. Combined with certain movements and rotations, these lights unlock a new world of possibilities for mapping nonverbal meaning between people. This project—“
“Why would anyone want that?” a man in the audience shouts out, interrupting him. “Who wants to get surgery to have their eyes snitch on them?”
The crowd laughs. Others chime in, agreeing with the heckler. Some even clap.
Bobby Ray swallows and keeps going.
“Imagine frictionless police encounters with citizens—each party knowing the emotions of the other.”
He closes his eyes again, bathing his audience in darkness. He keeps on through his speech, asking the millionaires to imagine scenarios as though they were wearing these lighted eyes.
He hears murmurs, people whispering to each other.
“Go on, what's the question?”
Someone speaks up, a man. “Do they let you see in the dark? Or through your eyelids?”
Bobby Ray shakes his head. “They don't do that, no.”
Bobby Ray keeps talking, finally coming to the culmination of his presentation. He unveils the name of the product (he's calling them Bright Eyes) and stands, eyes closed, waiting. This is the moment.
Only it isn't. He hears only meager applause and people talking in low voices to each other. Bobby Ray stands, awash in disbelief and rejection. Beads of sweat stream down his forehead.
"For people who'd like to see the Bright Eyes up close, catch me near the back of the auditorium, where there are several buckets of beer."
The applause for beer is louder than the applause for Bright Eyes. Bobby Ray tries not to let it get to him, tries to keep himself from panicking. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, nothing he visualized had been anywhere near this underwhelming.
In the back of the auditorium he drinks beer after beer, trying to make polite conversation with the attendees willing to approach him.
Every suspicious look and demeaning question about the implications of his invention feels like a punch in the gut. At some point his fists clench. He's run out of patience.
A woman is comparing Bright Eyes to the mark of the Beast. To his face.
“Shut up!” he yells at her. The lights in his eyes are a fiery red, eight spinning sources flashing rapidly. The room goes silent as everyone turns their attention toward them.
“I've spent the last three years of my life on this project,” Bobby Ray seethes at the woman. She shrinks away. Bobby keeps going. “I won’t be belittled by some religious zealot selling fear. Bright Eyes are a force for good!”
The four lights in each eye spin faster.
“You can see the utility of my invention, you see it in use right now! How can you not envision a world where liars are done away with? What would happen if politicians could no longer make false promises? If lawyers couldn't sway juries with lies? What if you no longer had to guess what mood your partner is in? These benefits aren’t obvious to you?”
The lights spin faster still, until two rings of angry crimson shine in his eyes.
A man steps between them and raises a hand, like he's about to reach into a bee’s nest.
“Uh…Mister Bobby Ray?” The man’s voice trembles. Bobby Ray nods, catching himself. He's losing it.
“If your Bright Eyes are put on the market, how can you expect anyone to choose to have them…installed? You said it's a surgery?”
Bobby Ray looks around. He sees plainly in their eyes their fear, frustration and anxiety. Many of them shift uncomfortably. He clears his throat. Suddenly this idea isn’t so thrilling. The lights in his eyes dim, the spirals spin slower.
“Bright Eyes are an extraordinary, revolutionary, necessary step. If the market doesn't adopt them, I suppose I'll lobby for mandatory adoption. Start with prison populations and go from there.”
“You want everyone to have them?” someone asks. Bobby Ray feels diminished, attendees forming a wall that surrounds him, towers over him.
“Ideally, yes. Bright Eyes would work best that way.”
More voices lend themselves to the spray of verbal abuse now directed at Bobby Ray:
“If you need surgery to get them, how do you upgrade?"
“I’m all for privacy infringement, but how would you monetize this product?”
“How would these eyes help the world? The way I see it, exposing everyone's true feelings will only cause more violence.”
“It still seems like the mark of the Beast if you ask me.”
“You’d force kids to get eye surgery? How safe is it? Not my kids.”
“Is it reversible? Are you going to be stuck with these lights?”
“This is the most ridiculous publicity stunt for funding I've ever seen.”
Bobby Ray sways, dizzy. The lights in his eyes are a pale yellow, swooping slowly around and between each other.
He struggles to speak.
“I...It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I made a mistake. What I said about mandatory adoption was a mistake.”
A waterfall of new voices falls on him, asking him more questions. He sinks beneath the waterfall, tumbling in his mind, his own failure dashing him against the rocks again and again. The waterfall’s sound changes, the dull roar expanding a thousandfold. A voice chants in his head, mocking him.
“Extraordinary, revolutionary, necessary. Extraordinary, revolutionary, necessary.”
It's all he can hear.
He falls to his knees and his stomach, overtaken by teething butterflies, empties itself on the floor.
The lights in his eyes are white.