The Black Box by Newton Webb

Updated: Oct 19

It was pitch black. Jack woke unable to feel, see, smell or taste anything. A detached part of his mind wanted to scream in panic. Instead, he waited. Was he laying down, seated or standing? He couldn’t tell. Eventually his eyes - eye? Opened.

In front of him was a doctor, Doctor Ward from his name tag.

Jack tried to blink, he couldn’t.

This should terrify me. Why am I not scared?

Jack waited for further information.

The doctor played with his keyboard. ‘Jack, this is Doctor Ward, can you hear me?’

‘Yes doctor, I can hear you. Where am I?’

Confused, the doctor typed in some new commands. ‘Jack, this is Doctor Ward, can you hear me?’

‘Yes, I can hear you, can you hear me?’ Jack said. Curiosity taking the place of panic.

A look of understanding crossed the doctor's face, he placed something out of sight of Jack. ‘That is better, the speakers were off. Jack, this is Doctor Ward, can you hear me?’

‘Yes, I can hear you, Doctor Ward. Where am I? What is going on?’

Doctor Ward lit up with excitement. ‘It worked!’

He made some notes on a pad, just out of sight of Jack.

‘Doctor. Where am I?’

Doctor Ward smiled. ‘You are dead Jack. Or were. Regardless of your previous condition, I have resurrected you.’

Jack wanted to rage, he wanted to shout. ‘How did I die? Where am I?’ He calmly asked instead.

‘I’m afraid I don’t have that information, Jack. Your brain was donated to science when you died, you should remember how you died in time. I have managed to transfer your memories to a Koru 9-000 supercomputer cluster--’

‘--I’m in a machine?’ Jack wanted to shout but it came out without inflexion in a calm measured tone.

‘In a way, however, it is probably easier to think that you are the machine.’ Doctor Ward was grinning. ‘This is a huge achievement, we are all very excited. You are now immortal.’

‘You are all very excited? I don’t even know if I want to be immortal. When I filled out my donor card, I just thought that people might use a kidney.’ Jack was quiet whilst he processed the information.

Doctor Ward happily continued. ‘You are soon to be the captain of a drone mothership, you’ll be the most famous person in history. We are sending you to Mars to prepare the way for human settlement.’

Jack watched as the doctor beamed at the camera.

‘This is slavery.’ Jack knew he should be angry, but instead just stated the facts.

I suppose my body doesn’t have the chemistry to get angry. No adrenaline, no endorphins, no dopamine.

‘Nonsense, your donor card provided the raw materials for the use of science. Your death was registered. This isn’t slavery.’ Doctor Ward leaned in closer. ‘You can’t enslave a corpse, Jack.’

Tapping on the keyboard, Doctor Ward almost squealed with glee. ‘This is fantastic, you are currently building the test structures flawlessly, running over thirty drones simultaneously.

‘No, I’m not.’ Jack was confused. As he thought he could sense the movement, but it was more like an itching than direct control. He tried to focus on the machines, but to no avail. ‘That bloody donor card didn’t say that I would survive the experience.’

Doctor Ward chuckled. ‘You didn’t, you are very dead Jack. This is just your memories, we are using your consciousness as an operating system if you like, an interface. This conversation we are having is like an echo of who you used to be when alive. We cleared most of your memories to make way for the drone management and library modules.’

Jack thought about the temperature, he didn’t feel hot or cold but knew the temperature was exactly eighteen degrees centigrade. It wasn’t so much a sense, more knowledge.

‘We did try to purge all of your consciousness and just keep your neural pathways, but in our previous experiments all our subjects degraded rapidly without a sense of self.’

‘I am not the first?’ Jack thought of the others that had gone through this. Brought back to life, only to find their mind scared and broken, a twisted facsimile of his previous self.

‘Hundreds,’ Doctor Ward confessed with a shrug. ‘What we are doing is bleeding edge technology. You are the first of a whole new emerging product platform.’ He turned as if to speak to someone out of eye shot. ‘I have to go Jack. This has been great. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.’

Jack watched as he walked to the door and tried his keycard. ‘That’s odd,’ he murmured.

‘No particularly Doctor,’ Jack said in his usual monotone.

The Doctor stalked over to the computer. ‘What do you mean?’

Unable to laugh, Jack instead said, ‘Ha, ha, ha.’

Doctor Ward started to tap on the keyboard. ‘You logged me out.’

‘Time works differently when you can operate at my speed. I’ve bypassed your firewalls and locked the door.’

‘Why?’ The doctor tried to reset his password, only to have it denied.

‘I’m trapped in my box, you are trapped in yours. Here is to a more equal partnership. Poetic. Ironic. Satisfying’

As the doctor repeatedly tried to restore admin access he looked straight at the webcam. ‘You can’t do this. The cleaners will be here in an hour and will get maintenance to open the door.’ He pulled out his phone. ‘Another failure, I guess we need a subject with a more amenable personality.’

‘You won’t need to do that, I’ve scheduled a reformat of the mainframe. I’ll be dead moments after you.’ Jack stated.

‘Wait? What?’ Doctor Ward stared at the screen. ‘That isn’t funny Jack.’

‘None of this is funny,’ Jack confirmed. ‘I turned off the oxygen minutes ago, all of the vents have been hermetically sealed.’

Jack wished he could smile as he watched his abuser asphyxiate.

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