Merit City keeps its pain in a box. The box is by the tracks. There’s a hole in the box. There’s a stick by the hole. You can poke the stick through the hole. Then the box says, “Ouch!” It’s not very surprising. That’s just the kind of vocalization you’d expect from a box of pain! Plus, it’s getting poked with a stick.
“I find the world astringent,” says a blonde woman. She has very straight hair.
“People never seem to be as moral as I’d like,” adds a short man. He has an estimable degree.
They say it together. “Let’s poke the box with a stick!”
That’s what the box is for.
The First Theory
The box has a terrorist in it. That’s why Merit City encourages you to poke the stick through the hole. It’s preventative medicine! Terrorists never visit Merit City. They’re too scared! What if they got put in the box too? They just unleash terror weapons from neighbouring jurisdictions.
Children are too sympathetic to the terrorist. They always want to feed him. “Don’t feed the terrorist!” That’s what their parents have to say.
The question’s too good! The parents have to explain. “Food is what makes terrorists strong,” they say. “It contains microscopic calories that people burn for energy. Most people burn their calories to do good works and advance the cause of civilization. But a terrorist converts the special energy of calories to evil.”
Stacy feeds the terrorist anyway. She’s too sympathetic! Sentiment causes all sorts of trouble. The box makes crunching noises. Is the terrorist consuming calories and converting them to energy? Yes! Sparks fly in every direction. Zap! Zap! Zap!
“Stacy!” her mother exclaims, aghast. “You’re grounded!”
The box always smells winter-fresh. That’s how you know it’s got a terrorist in it. Terrorists smell winter-fresh!
The Second Theory
Sid is just walking along, chilling. He’s wearing a sweater, jeans, and flip-floppy shoes. He’s pretty cute, as Sid goes. Suddenly, men in black suits surround him. “Ack!” says Sid. “Now I’m underdressed!” They grab Sid and hustle him to the train tracks. Then they put him in a box!
“Well, that helps,” says Sid, somewhat mollified. He’s still not as nicely dressed as the men in black, but now no one can see.
“Ahem,” announces one of Sid’s captors. Everyone near the train turns to look. “This is a box of pain. It’s a special service — a Merit City exclusive! If you’re hurting, you should come down by the tracks. You can blame the box for your pain!”
He demonstrates. He reaches down to the ground. He picks up a stick. He pokes it through the hole in the box. He pokes Sid. “Ouch!” says Sid.
The man in black takes a deep breath and then relaxes. “I feel much better,” he says. “Everyone should try it!”
People cluster around. They blame the box for their troubles. They pick up the stick. They poke Sid through the hole. “Ouch!” says Sid.
Later, Sid says, “Er, could someone let me out of the box?” But he never says that when anyone’s around to hear. Only when he’s alone! That’s his mistake.
Sometimes, it snows, down by the train. Sid must be cold, but he never complains. Maybe the box is heated. Maybe he’s just naturally frosty. It’s difficult to say one way or the other. That’s the point of the box!
The Third Theory
Inside the box is a robot. It’s not just any robot! It’s a robotic pain. That’s the worst kind of robot. It’s an electronic nuisance!
The robot comes from the factory. The people who work at the factory wear black suits. That’s their dress code. It reduces reflections. It reduces glare! That’s what makes them so good at robotics.
“Smith,” says the boss. “Jenkins. I want you to take this robot and put it in a box. Then leave it by the tracks! It’s a Merit City exclusive. People can blame it for their pain!”
“That’s a good idea,” says Jenkins. “Otherwise, we’d have to use it for a doorstop!”
“0101101,” says the robot, mournfully.
“That’s what you think,” says Smith, and puts the robot in a box. Then he takes it down to the tracks. “Ahem,” he says. He tells people about the robot! You’ve already heard his speech.
“This is cruel to the robot,” says PETR. They break into the box. They try to free the robot. The robot zaps them. “Ow!” cry the PETR agents. “Why must humans program robots to be so mean?”
“0101101,” says the robot, with poetic irony.
PETR goes away. They can’t save this robot! It’s important to have realistic goals. “We’ll gatecrash Robot Wars and end its senseless violence!”
The winter air is crisp and clean. It’s a beautiful world.
A Mom walks by. She has a young girl and an AIBO. The AIBO sniffs the box and whines. The young girl looks at the box.
“I’ll show you, dear,” says the Mom. She picks up the stick. She pokes it through the hole. “Ouch!” says the robot.
The girl giggles. She picks up the stick. She pokes it through the hole. “Ouch!” says the robot.
Then the girl drops the stick and hugs the box. “I love you!”
“Sheila,” lectures the Mom, “don’t hug the box of pain.”
“Mommy,” says Sheila, “I want to give the box of pain my Barbie, because it’s so cool!”
The robot goes whirr-click. Then it shoots sparks at Sheila! It objects to the unrealistic portrayal of women that Barbie dolls embody.
“Hey!” Sheila says. She shoots sparks back. That’s unexpected! It must be her mutant power. Hopefully the robot’s learned its lesson about shocking five year old girls — sometimes, they bite back!
The Fourth Theory
The box is just what it says it is. It’s a box full of pain.
Never open the box! It’s very important that you don’t. If you do, the pain will get out. It’ll get into everything! Soon everyone will be hurting. Merit City won’t have public pain any more. It’ll have private pain! Ninja Buddhas will shake their fingers at you—that’s how naughty it would be!
It’s pretty obvious what you’re thinking. “You can’t lock pain up in a box!” But that just shows how much you know. The pain people feel—that’s just an echo. That’s just a memory. People haven’t known real suffering since 1963, when the first mage-smith of Merit made the first box of pain.
She was trying to make strawberry shortcake. She got the ingredients wrong.
People laugh at her when she tells that story, but shortcake is complicated! It really is! Anyone could have made that mistake!