The Unanswerable Question, Answered

by Aidan Ryan

The laboratory was filled with a synthetic symphony as beautiful as any of the numerous wonders man has created by accident.  Gas valves hissed, beakers and test tubes bubbled at varying pitches, while the steady plink of water falling from tiny glass droplets provided the rhythm.  A telephone rang, a caged frog croaked, there was a crackle as an unattended Bunsen Burner lit fire to a sheaf of pie charts.  Another unattended Bunsen Burner blackened the edge of an actual pie, in apple, rather than chart form, left to heat by Dr. Hans Baxter in anticipation of his great discovery.  This, however, really made no sound at all and had nothing to do with the wonderful music being made by beakers, burners, phone, and frog.  Behind it all, the throbbing bass of this scientific orchestra, hummed a massive computer.  In the middle of the monstrosity was a single black slit, the computer’s built-in printer.  Dr. Hans Baxter stared at this opening with a mixture of awe, fear, and impatience.

Taking a deep breath, Dr. Baxter thought back to when his current quest had begun.  Fresh out of graduate school, Dr. Baxter was working as a junior researcher for a large German laboratory when he had been handed an unimportant-looking manila folder and told to get to work.  The lab had just been awarded a multi-billion dollar contract with the European Union to further its research in multiple fields.  While other, more senior scientists took on grand, much-publicized projects with hundred-million dollar budgets, Dr. Baxter took the humble sum of two and a half million and “got to work,” well out of the public eye.

He began by assigning an even lowlier researcher to pour over the tomes and records of forgotten Irish monasteries.  This junior junior researcher delegated the task to a still-lowlier researcher and instead devoted his valuable time to researching Irish whisky.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baxter took a team of young, attractive female research assistants to aide him in collecting specimens from Rome, Jerusalem, Mumbai and Machu Pichu.  Most of those specimens were various ethnic varieties of female research assistants.

Still, some of the specimens turned out to be of scientific value and – when combined with the copious reading, note-taking, and clue-finding of the junior junior junior researcher – led Dr. Baxter to request a two year paid vacation to Barbados, where he would compose an exhaustive preliminary report on his team’s findings.

Two years passed and Dr. Baxter submitted the report.  Another year passed before the report found its way out of someone’s inbox and into the hands of an unpaid undergraduate intern from Wisconsin who skimmed it and authorized Dr. Baxter a new team and a lump sum of one million dollars for further research.  Dr. Baxter handpicked a team of blonde, Swedish, female research assistants and set out for Cairo, where he purchased a tailored, white safari outfit and matching pith helmet.  Finding himself suitably dashing, he began the excavation of a pyramid a few miles outside of the city.

Dr. Baxter set up camp in a magnificent white tent furnished with heating, cooling, plumbing, electricity, internet, a large mahogany wardrobe full of white safari suits, a large mahogany desk upon which he placed piles of research, and a large mahogany bed big enough for himself and at least two Swedish research assistants.

Meanwhile, the junior junior researcher sat outside under a large white umbrella sipping pomegranate juice and supervised the team of five junior junior junior researchers that actually went about excavating the pyramid.  Of course, a mere five junior junior junior researchers, being science majors and not at all physically fit, could hardly excavate an entire pyramid themselves, so they dipped into their hookah allowance and hired a hundred or so local workers to do the actual digging for them.

The excavation was very successful.  Dr. Baxter uncovered three scrolls, a few pieces of broken pottery, and a shard of human bone.  Dr. Baxter told the junior junior researcher to thoroughly read the scrolls and retired back to his lab in Berlin to analyze the bone shard.

Of course, the lab in Berlin was not properly equipped to run all the necessary tests on the bone, so it was off to Tokyo for Dr. Baxter and his team of female research assistants.  In Tokyo, the bone shard led to a startling discovery, and Dr. Baxter requested another vacation to work on an article of his findings to be published in all the leading scientific journals.  This time he chose a tiny village on the island of Crete, where he retired for two years and not only wrote his article, but began his memoirs, reaching a full ten pages before he had caught up with the present day.

Having nothing else to fill his memoirs, Dr. Baxter resumed his quest in Utah, where he stepped off the plane and immediately bought a ticket back to Berlin, realizing that he would find nothing of interest in Utah.

Only a day after reaching Berlin, Dr. Baxter received an invitation to speak about his findings before the Royal Society of London.  This began a year-long series of lectures and speeches that took Dr. Baxter around the globe twice.

He never stopped in Utah.

The research had gone on like this for ten years more, zig-zagging between laboratories and archeological sites across the globe, interspersed with lengthy vacations and speaking tours.  Dr. Baxter finished another ten pages of his memoirs, and decided to break up the finished masterpiece into two volumes.  He was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his earnest assertion that, when completed, his research would further mankind’s understanding in that subject.  He received his award with grace and humility.

But all that was in the past.  Today was the day when all of his years of tireless research would come to fruition.  Dr. Baxter faced the massive computer.  Numerous screens adorned it’s mighty, vibrating flanks.  One displayed Google.  One displayed Facebook.  One displayed a green bar that was moving rapidly to the edge of the screen.  One displayed thousands of tiny numbers scrolling up and down faster than the human eye could comprehend.  Another was open to a porn site.

Dr. Baxter stared at the tiny opening, his eyes widening every second.  The symphony all around him reached a fever pitch and, suddenly, it all stopped.  With a whoosh, a single sheet of paper came out of the small back slit and Dr. Baxter leapt to catch it before it hit the floor, as if it were some precious china vase and not a pliable piece of cheap computer paper.  He held it aloft and stared at the words.

The next day, headlines across the world bore the astounding news:

4,264 Angels Can Dance On Head Of Pin, German Scientist Announces

As usual, the news headlines read like Yoda and made little grammatical sense, but the message was clear.  The age-old question that had duped philosophers, scientists, and laymen alike was finally answered.  Of course, atheist scientists immediately claimed Dr. Baxter’s results to be false, and the Hindu scientists soon followed.  They posited that, as angels did not exist, no scientific evidence could determine how many could dance on the head of a pin.

Unfortunately for them, though, it could.

Meanwhile, pundits everywhere asked, “Just what kind of dance are they doing?”

Parents concerned that the angels were dancing inappropriately quickly banded together to form a coalition to lobby for Dr. Baxter to retract his findings.  Parents Against Angels Grinding gained over two-hundred thousand members in its first month, and soon became a powerhouse on Capitol Hill.  Months passed before a bill reached Congress demanding the retraction of Dr. Baxter’s research, and when the final bill came to a vote, the House Majority Leader realized that Dr. Baxter was a German scientist working for the European Union, and under no influence from the United States Congress whatsoever.  Parents Against Angels Grinding quickly declined in membership and disbanded officially three months later, though not before pushing through another bill making leashes mandatory for all cats abroad in public.

Still, the group had raised a very important question, and soon scientists of all nationalities, genders, religions, persuasions, and leanings were pressuring Dr. Baxter to answer the new unanswerable question:  Just what dance were these angels doing?

Utterly unfazed by this new mystery, Dr. Baxter requested and received a sum of ten million dollars to further his research in the subject, intending to see the mystery to its conclusion.

A year passed, and then another.  Dr. Baxter met dead end after dead end after dead end.  No matter how many pie charts he told his aides to draw, no matter how many tests he had his aides run, no matter how many ancient sites he had his aides have poor locals dig up, no matter how many paid vacations he took, Dr. Baxter came no closer to the truth.  Eventually his interest in the subject faded and Dr. Baxter found himself utterly bored.

At the ripe old age of fifty-five, Dr. Baxter retired and set about finishing his memoirs, now titled, I Was This Close: The Story of Dr. Hans E. Baxter. The junior junior researcher became a full-fledged junior researcher, and his first order of business was to fire all five junior junior junior researchers, because he suspected they were plotting to kill him.

They were.

The blonde, Swedish female research assistants, finding themselves out of work, married rich men and proceeded to lose their good looks.  Dr. Baxter never finished his memoirs; he died of a gonorrheal complication shortly after reaching page forty-two.

The world, for its part, once again had an unanswerable question, and was content.

AIDAN RYAN is a seventeen year old writer, poet, and high school student from Buffalo, New York. His work has previously appeared in Grey Sparrow Journal, Tangent, and Full of Crow Quarterly. More information on the author and his work can be found at

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