What's in the black box?? Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Thirteen, click here. And stay tuned for the next three chapters or so, in which much of the big terrible secret is revealed.
This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
╗ FOURTEEN ╚
THE TRANSFER PROTOCOL
For the next hour Anna's spirit raged inside her as she waited in agony for the reactive computer to finish the scan. As the doctor had waved and left she was struck by the terrifying realization that she would be alone in the room with the computer.
Left alone with that . . . thing.
Thing, girl, monstrous creature, whatever it was. If indeed that was what was in the box, but Anna somehow had no doubt in her mind that the box did contain what she feared it did. There was no other place for the girl to hide in the lab, unless . . . she was in more than one piece. Anna shuddered at the thought and desperately thrust that possibility out of her mind. She would go with her first assumption for now.
There was nothing to do but wait for the scan to complete. Anna found she couldn't get comfortable in any position, whether sitting or standing or pacing around. The whole awful concept burned in her mind like nothing ever had before. At one point she turned toward the computer and the desperate thought occurred to her that she could pop the box open and confirm her suspicions once and for all, but she recoiled just as quickly and decided against it.
Her mind churned for answers but none came. Only questions bubbled to the surface. The most immediate one of course was whether Dr. Jarrod knew what he was working on. Had someone else built the reactive computer or had he been intimately involved in its construction? How much did he know? Perhaps he knew quite well what he was doing.
She felt her stomach growing sick again at the thought of the girl. What had they done to her? Why had they done it? What parent in their right mind would allow such a thing to happen to their child? Did she have any parents? And worst of all, why had she been trapped inside the SubVersion Complex for what looked like years before being shipped here to be used as part of an experiment? Which led back to her original question . . .
What was the SubVersion Complex?
She shuddered again and put it out of her head for the moment. There were bigger and more immediate problems at hand. She turned to the main display on the computer and with a shock realized that the scan had completed. The scan is completed. Theoretically that means that I can talk to the brain inside. The brain inside . . .
She stared at the display for a long time without moving. The brain wave pattern readout undulated in regular patterns like it always had, but now next to it there blinked an input window. Anna realized that the algorithm was working and that the computer sat ready to finally do what it had been designed to do. She fell into the chair in front of the keyboard but still hesitated. Equal parts curiosity and revulsion mixed inside her as she considered trying it out.
With a sudden burst of either desperation or confidence she typed the opening command. The electronic side of the computer would be running standard QX code, but if the algorithm was indeed working it would translate whatever code she typed into the appropriate brain wave impulses on the other side. Once the opening command was typed in she struck Enter.
The brain wave pattern immediately contorted and stuttered, and Anna recoiled as she began to see the patterns speed up and pulsate. She looked back to her input display and her heart raced. Underneath it was a window labeled “Output” and text began to fill it in. It was one sentence long.
'Please stop you're hurting me.'
Anna froze. Could it even be possible? Or was it a trick of the code? She went back to her input window and typed 'I don't want to hurt you.' Perhaps it was not real.
A pause, then more text appeared. 'It makes my head hurt make it stop.'
Anna's heart pounded. She was talking to the girl in the box. In a fevered daze she typed 'Who are you?' She waited for a moment, and sure enough more text appeared.
'I'm Sonya and I'm trapped get me out I want to get out where's my mommy I want my mommy.'
The girl had a mother. Her name was Sonya. And she was in pain. Suddenly the humanity of the girl inside the computer struck Anna in a wave and she sat back in her chair, stunned. Her eyes filled with tears; she almost didn't know why. She reached for the keyboard again. 'I don't know where your mother is, I'm so sorry.'
A long silent moment passed before anything appeared again on the screen. Then a short burst of text: 'Please get me out it's so dark I'm scared.'
A tear ran down Anna's check and fell onto the keyboard. She sat motionless, unsure of what to tell this poor creature. Her hands trembled with an emotion she could barely understand, a surge of protectiveness and a feeling bordering on attachment. She was about to type again when the output window filled with more text.
'What's your name?'
For some reason the question caught her completely off-guard. She bit her lip, then typed 'My name is Anna.' Then she added, 'I wish I could get you out of there, I wish I could find your mommy for you.' She had never really spoken to or interacted with many children before so she felt suddenly awkward speaking to one even through the stilted interface of the computer.
No response appeared on the screen. Anna waited for what seemed an age but still no answer. Fearful that somehow she was losing her subject's attention, she wracked her brain for something to say. Then something occurred to her, but she found herself wincing as she typed it: 'I lost my mommy too.'
Sure enough a reply was not long in coming. 'Oh do you have the same mommy as me?'
Anna found herself smiling grimly at the suggestion, and another tear trickled to the end of her nose. She realized that she liked this girl. She began to type again when another message from Sonya appeared. 'I like your name Anna it's pretty.'
Anna stopped typing her own message and sat still, listening to herself breathe and the computer hum. The situation was surreal. The biggest dream of her life, the reactive computer, sat in front of her and all she could do with it was have a conversation with the brain inside. The mind inside. The entire experience was completely unlike what she had ever fantasized about it.
She typed 'I've always liked my name. I like yours too.'
An idea occurred to her, and she leaned to one side so she could see the black box a little better. The lid was secured to the rest of the box with hinges on the long side and a trio of latches on the other. However, there were also screws pinning the lid closed all around its perimeter, securing it shut.
What would happen if I opened the box?
She knew she had roundly rejected doing so earlier, but now that she was certain of what was inside, somehow it didn't seem half as crazy. Except she had no idea of Sonya's condition, how she was hooked up to the computer, what sort of physical state she was in. Anna sat undecided for what felt like an eternity, her fear and her morbid curiosity battling for dominance.
She glanced at the monitor and saw another message from Sonya. 'My head hurts Anna make it stop.'
That settled things in Anna's mind. Without another contrary thought she hopped off the chair and pulled the rolling toolbox over to the computer. Selecting the appropriate torque driver, she gingerly pushed aside the masses of cabling and tubing that snaked to and from the black box and began working on the first screw. They were tightly secured and Anna had some trouble, but ten minutes and two sore hands later she had removed every last one. She snapped the wing latches open first, then reached for the main one, but again stopped in fear.
Why was she doing this? Suddenly every instinct in her body insisted that she stop, that she walk away. That she tell Adam what was going on, perhaps, so he could fix it all. Or perhaps that she should just finish the transfer protocol project and forget that this entire thing happened. Forget that she knew about Sonya, let the whole thing drop from her mind.
And it was then, while she crouched next to the black box absorbed in these thoughts, that she heard a sound that she would never forget. It was a sound that completely banished all thoughts of abandonment and betrayal from her head, quelling any desire in her to run from something that she knew she could never un-know.
From deep inside the box's dim interior came a sigh; the sorrowful, fitful sigh of a child who has cried for hours and has no tears left to cry.
Steeling herself for the worst, Anna flipped the final latch and let it fall open, then took the lid in both hands and slowly lifted it up. It creaked a loud creak, the noise of rarely used and never oiled hinges. Anna's spirit sank as it occurred to her that this box probably was not meant to be opened for a long, long time. She pushed the top all the way open and looked inside. Initially she saw nothing but a strange paper-like substance inside, very much like opening a gift wrapped in tissue paper. She guessed it was some sort of insulating substance meant to protect the subject inside and she reached in and spread the paper apart. Even with all of the time her mind had had to accommodate itself to such a disturbing idea, Anna found herself unprepared for what she saw next.
Lying on her back in the bed of insulating paper was the limp body of a little girl, her slender arms straight against her sides and her spindly legs sticking straight forward. She was dressed in a flimsy piece of clothing that resembled a hospital gown in that it only covered the front, and it was shifted around almost as if the girl had moved quite a bit since being put into the box. But it was her face and head that caused Anna to feel horribly queasy yet again. The girl had no hair to speak of on the top of her head; rather, in an obscene parody of long hair, from her scalp there sprouted innumerable slender probes that connected to wiring which flowed out of one end of the box and into the computer. The skin of her scalp had actually been peeled away in some spots where larger probes had been inserted.
The girl's face looked similar to her picture in her file, except this face was even more sunken and tortured. She wore a sort of blindfold or eye protection of some sort, and thrust into her nose was a long thin oxygen tube. Embedded into her abdomen were two other tubes, one for food and one for waste presumably, and in her arm was stuck an IV. All of the girl's skin shone a pasty white, and tattooed into her upper arm was the number SVC1001-1FX.
Anna gaped at the miserable form in the box for several long minutes, her soul devoid of any feeling other than absolute revulsion and fierce sadness. However, instead of willing herself to go numb, to feel nothing this time, she dared to fully savor the depth of her grief as she looked at Sonya. There was a grave injustice at work here and Anna could not help but feel herself moved to sorrow.
Then she heard the sound again, and clearly saw Sonya's chest rise briefly and fall in a long unconscious and broken sigh. A single tear trickled out from underneath the blindfold and disappeared into the paper below the little girl as she grimaced faintly. Anna saw the tear, the sigh, the pitiful condition of the helpless subject in front of her and in that moment something snapped. Whether it was the repellant combination of human and machine or the sudden thought that the girl had a strange beauty about her, she was never sure. Whatever it was, tears surged into Anna's eyes; she leaned on the side of the box and wept, and as she did so she put out a hand and touched the girl's face softly, feeling the surprising cold of Sonya's skin. The unconscious form of the little girl did not noticeably respond to her touch though, and Anna wept more.
As she sobbed a notion crossed her mind and grew stronger the longer she looked at the black box and its occupant. Who was this little girl to Daniel? A friend? That seemed unlikely, considering he didn't project an air of approachability especially to a small child. Or was the girl his daughter? Anna stared into the child's face and tried to recall Daniel's face for comparison, but the trauma of the girl's ordeal made it difficult to tell if there was a resemblance.
Then she remembered that she still had the other number to look up, and in a lucid flash she surmised that the other serial number must belong to Sonya's mother, since Daniel had described both of them with such animated language. The girl must be his daughter then. The question still remained as to what both mother and daughter were doing in the SubVersion Complex in the first place, but that was for a later time. Anna quickly closed the box again, replaced the screws, and attempted to rearrange everything as close to its original position as possible.
After looking out the window and seeing the sun dipped low in the sky, she decided that she would pursue the second serial number in the morning, when she was fresh from a real sleep and not a long nap on the couch in her clothes. She turned to take one last look at the computer monitor and her pulse quickened at what she saw.
In the Output window new words had appeared: 'I heard you crying did you touch my face please make it stop hurting Anna please don't leave.'
The words ripped Anna's heart out. She winced as she deleted the log and closed out of the Input and Output windows, not wanting to have to explain to this child that she needed to leave and get some rest. Besides, she remained divided as to what to do about the entire situation. There was no way to just take the girl out; it was not something Anna could do on her own anyways. Neither was there an easy way to convince Dr. Jarrod to stop his experiment. He would never stop, she was convinced. Nor could she simply let the whole matter drop, she just couldn't.
The entire drive back home was dominated by the image of that girl's face floating in Anna's consciousness, the horrible probes and needles protruding from the unfortunate creature's head, the plaintive sigh. The emotions of the day threatened to overwhelm her as she guided her car back home, and she wiped away more than one tear as she pulled back down her street. Her hands still shook on the steering wheel.
As she passed his house she noticed that Mr. Vickers had his downstairs lights turned on, and as she pulled into her driveway she looked over curiously to see what might be going on inside. The blinds blocked the windows of the kitchen but she could see through the other window that Mr. Vickers stood near the front door, speaking with very animated gestures to someone out of sight. As Anna looked closer at Mr. Vickers she could see that fierce anger burned in his face. She had never seen him look so angry; in fact she had never seen him really angry at all, ever.
Another strange thing in the course of a very strange day. She ran into her house, shut and locked the door carefully this time and set the alarm, and retired to her room. A deep cloud of gloom settled on her as she undressed and fell into bed, and her indecision smoldered inside making her heart burn. She didn't know what to do.
The second serial number was the only thing she could latch onto for comfort. She would find out who and what it was and then figure out what to do next.