“I’ve got it!” Barnes leapt out of his chair and knocked hot synth-coffee over his work interface and paunch. Perhaps that was why the idea vanished. By the time he had swabbed away the mess, the brilliant flash of creativity was no more than the memory of something that had almost been within his grasp. He needed a few breaths of bottled fresh sea air–his last multi-million global craze–to boost his brainpower.
He had exactly twenty-three minutes to find the next big thing, the product that everyone–young, old, straight, gay, white, black and everything in-between–had to have. Innovations Manager Oona Hardy had smiled at him at the last project development meeting–that smile. Barnes was sure it was produced by twitch implants that pulled back her lips to reveal entirely too much gum and teeth. No one who had been on the receiving end of that smile survived the next meeting unless they came up with something so good no one could understand why it had not been thought of before. The trouble was, the harder he tried to snatch at ideas, the faster they fled. What was that idea he had been about to have?
“I don’t need to tell you we’re under pressure. Yes the ‘Shake It’ instant drying fabrics are still selling well, particularly the towels, but with OmniCom launching its ‘Perfect Image Flexi You’ technology we have to come up with something to compete.” Oona Hardy had a way of pausing behind the so-called creatives at the conference table as she paced around it that made each one flinch. When it was Barnes’ turn, he had to fight himself not to draw in his head like a tortoise. She moved on, and Barnes exhaled.
Someone stammered out an idea. Hardy’s lips began to pull back. Any moment now, Barnes would be called upon to speak. If only there was a way to make inspiration come to order. If only there was a way to backtrack to the flash of light and stop it escaping.
“What we need is an inspiration machine.” He had not meant to say it aloud, but Oona Hardy pounced on it.
“An inspiration machine. That has possibilities… expound!”
Barnes filled in the panic with words. “Think of all the priceless inventions that have been lost because an alert beeped or someone spoke. An inspiration machine would take you back to the instant when the idea began to form and allow you to follow it through… ” He was babbling, but Hardy was already filling in the gaps.
“How long before it’s market-ready?”
“Umm… ” He should not have hesitated.
“Four months. Bravo Barnes! Who’s next?”
Barnes tried to breathe naturally, as Hardy’s smile lasered the colleague next to him. Four months, and he had no idea what he had just proposed, let alone how to make it. The trouble was, he needed an inspiration machine to show him.
Four months of experimenting with electronically induced hypno-regression, combinations of auditory stimuli and implants in the primitive brain, and Barnes was no further forward. All he had to show for his work was a mess of interlinked nano-chips and nerve switches.
“Is this it?” Hardy’s demand caught Barnes off-guard.
“Yes.” That was it so far.
“Good. Give me a demonstration. Is this how it goes?” Hardy picked up the contraption.
“It isn’t ready yet.” Barnes hastily positioned the kit on her.
“Absolutely. It needs to look more sexy… ”
“I meant… ”
“Switch on… ”
Barnes held his breath as Hardy closed her eyes and waited for something to happen.
“It doesn’t work,” he said.
“Mm… tingling… not unpleasant… ”
“It doesn’t work.”
“Of course it works! I’ve just had a brilliant idea how to market it.” Hardy turned on her smile.
Barnes knew better than to disagree.
The more time that passed and the steeper the sales graph rose, the harder it was for Barnes to unglue his tongue. The inspiration machine was a sensation, acclaimed by avant-garde artists and company directors alike. Barnes enjoyed the bonus Hardy gave him, but not the smile she seemed now to reserve for him. He pretended to be working on a way of tapping into parallel universes, but continued his research into trapping the creative moment. Sooner or later, the bubble was bound to burst, and if he could come up with a machine that worked he might not get caught in the blast. He attached himself to the machine’s latest incarnation and closed his eyes. He sighed. It didn’t work, he was on completely the wrong track. The reason he knew was because there was the light of an idea glimmering in the distance.
“This doesn’t look much like a parallel universe interface to me.” Hardy’s smile cut off the protest Barnes was about to make. “It’s amazing what people can do when they believe things are possible. All those testimonials we have from satisfied customers who’ve found our machine increases their innovation. Anyone who hasn’t can’t have any imagination.”
“But I know how to make it work.” Barnes tried not to listen to her: the light was still there.
“Of course you do, you invented it.”
Not the smile, not the smile, not the smile, Barnes repeated in his head. “All we have to do is… ” But there it was–the pulled back lips, the expanse of gums.
“Um… er… ” It was no good, it had gone.
Hardy twitched her smile back until Barnes thought her face would split in two. More alarming still, she patted his hand. “I thought so. Best stick to the parallel universe interface. I’ve got just the market for it.”
© 2019 by K.S. Dearsley
Author’s Note: Two things were mainly responsible for The Inspiration Machine: the panic when you have to come up with an idea, and that pesky inspiration is hiding again (It’s never there when you want it.), and the memory of team briefings to discuss corporate strategy. I still have nightmares.
Karla Dearsley’s stories, flash fiction and poetry have been published on both sides of the Atlantic. She lives in Northampton, England, and when she is not writing she lets her dogs take her for walks. Her fantasy novels are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Find out more at http://www.ksdearsley.com.