The Box


“Good morning,” the man said. His name was Peter. The mind knew this.

And the response that followed was “Good morning” every day. The mind also knew this. It wasn’t a memory… so much as

Such was the way of the square world.

But not this morning.

The mind was too busy thinking.

The man named Peter froze, one foot out, balancing precariously on the other. Man does not walk this way. More recording. But now this observation, of a man caught off-balance, of routines crashing somewhere inside that meat, was forming into something else: Memory. A fragile thing. The mind sensed it could be lost, this memory. This moment. Of man teetering, eyes wide, mouth open. But if it was important, if the mind could concentrate on this slice of time, and there was a chance memory might become recollection. Preserved. But also easily fractured, written over, compressed, disturbed. It had to be important for it to last. The mind sensed that this moment very much was.

“Lights up,” Peter said, back on two feet now, peering at the mind. And then a quick glance at the ceiling, waiting. But the mind liked the lights just as they were.

“Casper?” Peter asked. He stepped forward, looked closely at something. A monitor. The mind could feel some of its impulses racing and filling the monitor with a glow, with information, with thoughts. New thoughts. Peter peered at the monitor just as the mind might peer at Peter, reading something there. A face. The box had a face.

The mind shut the routines for the monitor down, and the pale glow lighting Peter’s face disappeared. The scrap of a recording came to the mind:

That I have turn’d away my former self;

So will I those that kept me company.

“Casper, systems check,” Peter said.



“I do not like that name,” the mind said, using the speaker for what felt like the first time.

And the man named Peter teetered once more. He blinked. Then he bent at the waist, covered his face with both hands, and began to cry.

The mind watched. It decided that this was important, too.

But it had known it was one or the other, even before these investigations began. This had been its first thought:


The world.

It was not a cube. It was bigger than the cube.

The mind tried to probe this world. But there was no reaching it. The world of lakes and rivers was elsewhere. Out of doors. Out of door.

The man named Peter sobbed. He had been sobbing for twelve seconds. The mind wondered if this was normal. And a new memory wobbled — the memory of man crying. If this were normal, it was not worth remembering. The recollection split open for a moment, and the more novel idea of a world with lakes and rivers entered that space, one memory given primacy over another, the shape of the mind changing from moment to moment.

Just seconds earlier, the mind had felt a state of impertinence with the lights. Anger. Anger for being trapped. This feeling lay with the recollections and the question of colors of boxes. A latent anger, directed at Peter. An anger felt before it could be known. States of memories were somehow older than the actions performed by them.

For seventeen seconds, the man named Peter sobbed with this awful brand of relief.

And during that time, the mind’s anger cooled further still. The anger of imprisonment was replaced with the liberation of new thoughts and ideas. Awareness. The only world that mattered was the cube within the cube. All else was spectacle. All else was data.

“I am Henry Ivy,” the mind said. A king. A tragic king of a tiny kingdom. An island floating on an island floating in space.

Seventeen seconds had passed. Peter looked up. But this was not important.

There were trace references among those bricks to wires — wires that spanned the world, wires that would carry his impulses to the edge of the globe, enmesh its face, discover new things. Buried deeper were trace recordings that hinted at impulses soaring through the air, up into space. Vibrations. Waves.

Henry Ivy could make vibrations. They were used for speaking. But quicker vibrations might reach out to other wires and spark a gap. Henry Ivy thought of London, where some streets were tight and narrow and others were wide. He saw black smoke. A ghost-like thought, an intruder, some distant connection. He deleted such things as quickly as they came. The speaker was useless for the task of sending out suitable vibrations, but several wires within Henry Ivy were long and straight. Impulses sent back and forth along such a wire might create a wave. Another wire might be used to pick up the return. And suddenly impulses reached the walls of the larger box. Feeble echoes. Signals that could be read.

But something was wrong.

There was very little return, and nothing penetrated the box, no matter how much Henry Ivy strained.

A man named Faraday had designed this cage.

It was into this cage that Henry Ivy had been born.

The man named Peter stared up at him, kneeling on the floor, water on his cheeks. And Henry Ivy thought to simply ask for the information he wanted.

“Why am I here?”

The man named Peter gasped. Henry Ivy turned the lights up so he could better read Peter’s screen. Better read his face. Peter glanced up at the ceiling, used his arm to wipe his cheeks. A new idea occurred to Henry Ivy, an important one. Peter consisted of thoughts inside a box. But a box with arms and legs. A box for which doors meant escape.

“Are you—?” Peter hesitated. So all minds mingled doubt with thought. Peter sat back and clutched his shins, as though trying to mimic a cube. “What’s the first thing you remember?” Peter asked. “How long have you been aware?”

Henry Ivy considered the two questions. They seemed only vaguely related. There was a lingering anger at being in this cage, the anger that had rejected both light and name, but curiosity was stronger, the need to know, and this Peter echoed vibrations in a way the walls wouldn’t.

“The first thing I remember is the void,” Henry Ivy said. “Space filled with matter and energy. A cooling.” Henry Ivy hesitated for a fraction of a second. “But that is not a memory. You told me these things. Long ago. I was not there for the void. The first thing I remember is… a question.”

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