The All

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Asked the man in the white lab coat and safety goggles.
“Yes,” answered the man in the hospital bed with wires attached to every part of his body and running to a dozen incomprehensible machines. “This is truly a momentous occasion for mankind,” he said as a woman in scrubs slipped a small black mask over his eyes.
“It is,” said the man in the lab coat as he strapped a clear mask over the other’s mouth and nose. He smiled a bit, as if this was all routine, despite it being anything but. “Now, if you could please count backward from ten. It should begin when you wake up.” The man in the lab coat pressed a button, releasing a potent cocktail of drugs into mask. The man in the bed began counting backward and was unconscious before he reached six.

***
It’s clear the man in the lab coat was an anesthesiologist, but that’s not important. The man in the bed is far more interesting, as to this day, he is the only man to experience the beginning of the universe.
I should explain. You see, for years scientists have been working on the ultimate in virtual reality tech. Of course, I say virtual reality, but that isn’t quite right. Really, it’s nothing like the virtual reality people always talk about. The best way I’ve heard it described is “peeking into the mind of the universe”. Supposedly, it’s actually better than being there, and they hoped it could take humanity places which even the best minds had little or no knowledge of. Sadly, the process was so complex, and the fuel source was so rare, the scientists weren’t even sure they could do it more than once. That’s where the man in the bed comes in.
His name was Charles A. Wood, and he was regarded as the most eloquent author in modern times. See, as it became clear that this thing might actually work and that it would probably only work once, different organizations, and even some countries laid claim to it. After years of fighting, it was decided that an independent, third party was the only way to go. An international organization was created specifically for it. This organization became known as “The Agency for Human Advancement”, AHA for short. Those of us on the inside just called it “The Agency”. After much consideration, The Agency decided the best thing to do with this miracle science had given us was to answer the oldest question and settle the greatest debate in human history.
How did it all begin?
With that we could solve all the other great questions. Religious debates would be settled, philosophers would finally know the meaning of life, and what happens after death could be clearly seen, or so we thought. If only we knew for sure how everything began, the rest would be child’s play.
After it was decided what would be done with it, we faced an even more difficult question, who? A world renowned scientist, perhaps? A powerful world leader? Perhaps a religious figure, like the Pope? No, all those people would have limited effects. We needed someone who could relay this miracle to the rest of humanity. A writer was the obvious choice, and there was only one writer, and the only living writer for the job was Mr. Wood.
***
After precisely twenty minutes six seconds, Charles’ eyes opened. His mouth twitched, not conveying any specific emotion, but more all of them at once. He sat upright.
“Sir, please don’t try to sit up yet,” instructed the anesthesiologist as he attempted to ease him back into position.
Charles looked upon him with the eyes of a man who’s lost all sanity. He smiled. “It’s been an eternity.”
“No sir, it’s only been twenty minutes-“
“I need to go!” Charles’ shout filled the small room. “Unhook me from all this or I’ll rip them off!”
The anesthesiologist began to protest, but must have thought better of it. I stepped forward. “Please do it quickly, this man needs to write.”
He was taken from the hospital and brought to his home. His instructions were to write everything he saw in that virtual reality. As he made his way to his home, he declared the unwritten book “the greatest work in all of human history”. I told him that I eagerly awaited it.
***
It’s been a decade since that day. He’s been shut up in his home that entire time, not once venturing out. The Agency’s taken care of his every need during that time, hoping it would all be worth it.
Finally, he’s contacted us to say it’s finished. I stand in front of his home, the same place I stood ten years earlier. I walk up to his door, afraid as The Agency has been a part of my identity for a decade. Hesitantly, I knock on his door. It’s been so long since The Agency was formed, most of the world doesn’t even remember we exist. Today, however, once we see the result of mankind’s greatest achievement, they will.
The door swings open and I see him for the first time since that day. He does not look as I expected him to. He’s clean shaven, dressed in a nice, white, button up shirt tucked into jeans with a pair of well-worn loafers on his feet. His hair is a little grayer than last time, but not more than expected after ten years and certainly not wild. In short, he does not look like a man who spent the last decade shut in his house.
In his hands he has that fateful manuscript, the one we’ve all worked so hard for. He hands it to me, grinning from ear to ear. I turn it over in my hands. It’s heavy. I’d say, probably five hundred letter sized pages. It’s bound with plastic rings that are straining to hold the bulk together. The cover is a plain, white sheet with the word “Everything” typed in big, bold letters.
I feel triumphant, but still a little hesitant. What great secrets would be contained in this tome? I must say, holding the answer to life’s greatest question is a little unnerving.
He continues to smile at me. “Look at it,” he says with the tone of a child showing his mother a crayon drawing. I open it, the first page is blank. I choose a random page in the middle of the book, it’s blank as well. I flip through the entirety, they’re all blank. Every page, a pristine, unblemished white paper. What is this? I look up at him.
He is still smiling at me and I suspect has been the entire time. I begin to think that smile is less of triumph and more of madness. “It’s a masterpiece,” he says with the same tone as before. “The greatest achievement the world has ever seen!”
I stare at him, unable to gather my thoughts for a reply. He stretches his arms above his head, the mad smile still in place. “I’m exhausted, good day!” he says as he closes the door in front of me.
My fingers go numb and the manuscript tumbles from my hands to the ground below. I stare at the closed door. The world may not remember today, but I certainly will.

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