The academics knew Aiken had the answer. They demanded he give it to them.
Trouble was, Aiken couldn't explain it to them even if he was willing to. To explain it, there would have to be words, and Aiken didn't deal in words. Aiken dealt only in numbers.
Aiken even saw the food they brought to him in his tiny windowless cell as a set of numbers that, once eaten, would be converted to a different set of numbers. He understood that eventually the food in his digestive system, as it turns to waste, would be converted to numbers before being expelled into the white pot they brought in every evening. In time, he realized that even that white pot had a numerical value, and its numerical value interacted with the numerical value of what he deposited into the white pot. He knew that when they took the pot away each morning, they would carefully analyze every bit of what it contained, believing it would reveal the answer.
But Aiken was too smart for them: he had learned how to adjust his digestive processing system in order to add a false equation to whatever he deposited into the white pot. This false clue was added in the form of a mathematical formula that, on the surface of it, would seem very complex. Aiken knew they would eventually decipher the formula and assume it was the key to extracting the answer. They would work on it for months, maybe even years.
In time, the authorities would become impatient. But the academics would keep on telling them they were very close to finding the answer —all they needed was a little more time.
The authorities would be forced, once again, to put off his execution date.
Aiken knew the academics would never find the answer because they lived in a world of words, and the answer could never be stated in words.
Aiken realized the authorities would eventually come to the conclusion that it would be safer to dispose of him than to risk the possibility that a foreign government would mount a military effort to capture him in order to get the answer for themselves. But he had a plan for that too: as soon as they put him in front of the firing squad, he would pretend to break down and finally give them the supposed answer.
And then, when the academics realized that the supposed answer was nothing more than yet another clue, it would all start over again, the cell, the food, the white pot, the academics' daily analysis of whatever he deposited into the white pot, and that would give Aiken even more time to do what he loved doing most, what he had been doing for most of his life, lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, lost in his wonderful world of numbers.
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Want to comment on this story? Click Here to go the Literary Review Discussion Forum (for the subject, enter "Comment on story The Answer")