Andrew Boyd-Thompson’s ‘The Para-Box’, winner of QUB Sci-Fi Society’s Short Story competition. Photo Source: Fresh Eye Solutions.
Andrew Boyd-Thompson, Contributor.
For the short time I had known him this was all he ever worked on. It was a device. A strange device. The sort of device you would tell someone about and they’d call you crazy. Like a toaster that only works in a freezer or a phone that can hold charge. This device was a sort of paradox machine. I say sort of because it specialised in one specific paradox. The removal of oneself from existence. If a person were to use the box they would commit the most thorough suicide imaginable. I can assure you that the box has never been used. I can assure you of this because its inventor, Professor Hart, only finished it today. His life’s work complete I came to see it.
“Is it ready? The Para-box?” I asked as I came in.
“I told you not to give it a name,” scolded Hart.
“Why not? Everything needs a name.”
“A device such as this, with a function such as this, deserves no name at all.”
“I know you don’t want to show the world but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t name it.”
“My dear boy,” said Hart, suddenly serious, “This is not a pet project. This is not a proof of concept. This. This!”
There was a grave pause. He pointed at the machine. It was the first time I really saw it. It was smooth and jet black. It’s shape was a perfect cube with a few simple buttons on the top. There were a few scratches, scuffs of silver, revealing the frustrations and imperfections of the process. It made me think of a fighter jet mixed with a funeral. His hopes and fears, his frustrations and anguish were all placed in this box.
“This box is my life,” he said still pointing.
“Why did you make it?” I asked. I asked before but he never told me. He always came up with a convenient way of ejecting me from his office. I could easily guess from the way he went on. So eventually I stopped asking. Today though I needed confirmation.
“You won’t know. You’ll never know. Just promise me that no one else will use the box. I’d never be able to…”
He paused as he rethought his sentence. Then let out a little chuckle.
“I suppose it won’t matter to me. Just promise me.”
“You’re a good man.”
He made his way over to the box and pushed a few buttons. Then he turned to me. He stiffened up, his features froze. His mouth twitched.
“You were a brief flurry of light in the eternal void that was my life. I am grateful to have known you, and I am sorry you ever met a miserable old man like me.”
I just stood there. I knew he would just throw me out if I tried to stop him. So I didn’t. Instead I watched as he pressed a single, small, seemingly insignificant button. With a little crack of light he was gone. There was no more Professor Hart.
The next day I came back to his office. I had wondered in my bed that night, if this box removed someone from existence, completely and truly from all of time and space, why could I still remember him?
The box was still there on the table where he had left it. I looked around at the items in his office. There were rows of books he’d written in stacked in shelves, papers strewn across tables and scribbles of brilliance sprinkled across the floor. When I looked at the items in his office I saw a life. I wished I could live a life as full as his.
Then a quick flash of lightning came from the box. In a single instant Hart was back, standing in the very spot he had been yesterday.
“What happened?” I asked.
He stood there. All the blood drained face and his eyes blank. He didn’t see me in the room or any of the books or papers or scribbles, no. His eyes were set on the Para-box.
“I should have known,” he let out.
He slammed his fist on the desk. I had never seen him like this.
“Known what?” I asked. He saw me at last. He stumbled over and grabbed me by the arms. His boney fingers like metal vices securing me in place. His eyes pleading before his mouth could. “Destroy that box for me please. Thank you.”
He released his grip and shuffled towards the door.
“Professor,” I asked one final time, “what happened?”
“There was one fatal flaw in my box that has rendered my life more meaningless than I ever imagined it could be.”
“What was it?”
“The box erases the user from existence by maintaining a paradox that allows one to kill oneself. All of the users achievements, experiences, histories and actions are erased but the killing blow. After which the box remains. It must remain.”
“And that’s what you did?” He nodded. “So why didn’t it work?”
“Because,” his voice grew fainter. “If I killed myself, who built the box?”
I understood it now.
“So you want me to destroy it.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Unfortunately, you will.”
And with that he left. I destroyed the box. As I tore it apart I saw the perfection of its workings. The hopes and dreams of a man who wanted nothing more than to be never have been. In chasing that hope he had created the thing he had always wanted: the perfect method of suicide. A method for everyone but him.