Blank?!

Davis McKenzie tensed. He could almost taste the suspense in the air as he stepped out onto his colossal computer's programming platform. So many eyes on him... Well, actually only two, but then millions of eyes beyond that camera. Everyone, waiting to see this revolutionary wonder, waiting for the answer to all their problems. Essentially, the hopes of the world rested on McKenzie's shoulders.

Why'd I do it? he asked himself. Fame? Glory? The fact that I could?

What the heck have I gotten myself into this time?

McKenzie was always nervous. He was a genius, unsurpassed in his technological brilliance. He had been the one to invent the trash-powered car, which singlehandedly stopped global warming; the Economac, which saved the almost devastated recession; and the non-paradoxial time machine---a time machine, of all things! He had been praised and was revered as hero by some, and as a nuisance by others. In all of his sixty-five years, he had never done a project as big as this (not even the time machine), and because of his previous successes, practically the whole world was awaiting the unveiling of this new invention.

Dr. Anthony Claythorn scrutinized the machine with a meticulous eye. This should be able to work a miracle, he thought. Or at least come up with a convincing fake. He adjusted his glasses and straightened his posture, the very picture of an educated, logical-headed young man. I wonder what it's going to come up with. Love? Money? 42? A quote from Jesus or Buddha?

Dr. Claythorn was a professor of psychology at Harvard E-niversity, the youngest ever at the age of 18. He was quite handsome, with dark hair, sharp features, intelligent eyes, and a slight British accent. He had become acquainted with McKenzie a few years earlier, and had been sorely disappointed with the old man. He certainly hadn't seemed like a genius. Claythorn interviewed him and concluded that McKenzie made his brilliant discoveries subconsciously. The professor was eager to see the next machine McKenzie's subconscious genius had produced. It was also a matter that this was a question pondered for all of eternity, one that Claythorn himself had failed to answer. Now McKenzie claimed his machine could tell them the meaning of life. A mix of incredulity and curiosity had brought him here.

William Phillips' eyes were on the nervous McKenzie. This dunderhead had better not blow it, he thought. This is the meaning of life we're talking about here, bucko. Not some cheap... thing. Answer out of a self-help book. He adjusted his camera-lens and snapped another picture, purposely with flash, of the stupid mechanic who had blundered his way into ingenuity.

Phillips was gruff through and through. Every movement he made and every thought in his head was blunt and ill-tempered. Every person he had ever come acquainted with in his lifetime had been subject to his favorite insult, “you dunderhead.” He had been working as a cameraman for Pangaea News all his forty years, and disliked the fact that not one person recognized him for it. He was skeptical of any new idea, especially skeptical of Davis McKenzie.

Why? He didn't even know. William Phillips was just annoyed at McKenzie, and that was a fact.

McKenzie had specifically requested that only Dr. Claythorn and Mr. Phillips attend this grand event, and the press had reluctantly agreed. McKenzie was glad that there were only two in the room, for if there had been one more, he would have broken down. There had only been two at the unveiling of the Economac (his wife and a cameraman) and only two at the revealing of the time machine (his wife and a cameraman.) When thousands had first gathered at the trash-powered car's opening, McKenzie had almost fainted under the pressure.

McKenzie did not faint this is time, but he was shaking as he entered his command into the computer. Why can't these things ever be private? he thought, stepping back off the platform.

The machine rattled, and McKenzie cringed. Dr. Claythorn leaned forward in interest, and Mr. Phillips scowled, taking another shot and then pressing videorecord.

The rattle eventually turned into a groundshaking roar. The three men covered their ears as the pitch climbed. The machine was thinking.

McKenzie released the breath he had been holding as a small piece of paper shot out of the printer. He caught it and stared, all his relief gone.

“It's...blank?!” he squealed.

“Blank?” Dr. Claythorn asked.

“Blank? Blank?!” McKenzie was falling apart now. “It can't be blank! What the heck does blank mean?!”

“It means there is no point to life, you dunderhead,” Phillips grouched.

“No,” Claythorn interrupted. “If there was no point to life, it would say so on the paper.”

“Well, what does it mean, dunderhead doctor?”

“I'm afraid there is no way to interpret a blank page at this level of thinking,” he replied stiffly.

“Okay then, let's think technical. Ask the dunderhead mechanical 'genius' how he programmed it.”
“Um...” McKenzie started softly. “I didn't think, you know, I just did it, you know.”

Phillips stared. “What do you mean, you didn't think?”

“I-I-” he stammered. “Uh, read Dr. Claythorn's study on me from a few years earlier?”

Phillips scowled. “Great. Just great. The guy claims he's found the answer to life and he didn't even think while building the stupid machine.”

“Mr. Phillips, I would advise you to keep your temper,” Dr. Claythorn warned.

Phillips rolled his eyes and muttered—you guessed it—“Dunderhead.”

“Now,” Dr. Claythorn said, beginning to circle around the machine with hawk-like eyes, “we really should try to sort this out as soon as possible. We wouldn't want to keep the public waiting.”

“Right about that,” Phillips granted.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “this problem has taken almost all of eternity to try to solve, and this will just add more controversy. Question One: What is the meaning of life? Question Two: Why has this machine offered as an answer a blank piece of paper? Question Three: How does Mr. McKenzie know that this machine is able to determine the meaning of life? Question Four-”

“Three questions is enough,” Phillips interjected. “I'm getting a headache.”

“I don't know, okay!” McKenzie sputtered out. “It just is, sir—it's the answer, it's the key, and I don't know why or how!”

“But how are you certain that this computer-” Claythorn insisted, but McKenzie cut him off.

“I'm just the builder, sir! I didn't provide this answer, I didn't know what it was going to do!”

“You didn't tell it to give you the answer beforehand?”

“No, sir,” he replied meekly.

“And yet you didn't hesitate to proclaim that it had found the meaning of life? How do you know-”

“Haven't I been telling you?!” McKenzie cried in frustration. “I don't know! For heavens' sakes, man, stop asking me about it! I didn't think it out, and you of all people know best how I build! Subconsciously!”

There was silence for a moment. Then Dr. Claythorn muttered, “Perhaps McKenzie's subconscious is doing more work than we give it credit for.”

McKenzie nodded.

“Well, then let your subconscious speak,” Claythorn said flatly. The other two men looked blank. Dr. Claythorn rolled his eyes. “The Wahl Technique, developed in 2080. Used to help connect to the subconscious for brief moments. Not foolproof, but it's the best we can try here.”

Phillips, who had gotten lost somewhere around the word “subconscious,” barked, “We're not all psychology professors, dunderhead. Tell him what he's supposed to do-”

“It's alright,” McKenzie assured him. “I know how to do this. As part of a test—Dr. Claythorn's actually—quite an exhilarating experience.” He closed his eyes as well, leaving Phillips more irritable and confused than before.

A few seconds later, McKenzie fell to the floor with an outcry of, “No! I mean, yes. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. I don't know! Help!” He twitched spastically.

“Blank,” Dr. Claythorn explained, opening his eyes.

“So...”

“So, on to question Two.”

Phillips groaned. “I'm not a philosopher, I'm an overworked cameraman who wants lunch. Can't we just conclude that the meaning of life is a blank piece of paper and leave it open for later interpretation?”

Dr. Claythorn stiffened. “No. I refuse to rest until I've figured this out.”

“Good luck with that,” Phillips muttered sarcastically.

All this was being fed live to Pangaea News' headquarters via Phillips' camera, and panic had spread across the country. Some, who immediately thought that this meant there was no meaning to life, promptly died. The rest of the people took the time to sit down and think this out, which inevitably took them in circles. Dr. Claythorn's remark, “I refuse to rest until I've figured this out,” became the motto of some of these people. The lucky few who had not subscribed to the live Pangaea News Station in their heads didn't have to worry about it until someone told them (which meant never in the Siberian tropical wilderness.) “Blank?!” was a worldwide craze. Everyone wanted to know what life was all about, and so they sat and thought.

Who knows, perhaps McKenzie just forgot to put ink in the printer.





Join the Discussion

This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

seattle subscriber said...
Oct. 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm
great job, amanda!  but will there be another chapter or will you keep us all in suspense???
 
Amanda_S replied...
Oct. 7, 2010 at 5:56 am
Sorry, but this is just a short story. Even if there is kind of a cliff hanger ending. You can form you own opinions about what happens next...
 
SkellingtonGirl said...
Sept. 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm
Amanda, there is only one thing to say and that is this: Story = amazing.
 
Amanda_S replied...
Oct. 7, 2010 at 5:56 am
Why, thank you.
 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback