THE EMPIRE BUILDER
A novel in dramatic form
by Cormac McCarthy
[SCENE: A moving NYC subway train, late at night. Car empty except for White. Black enters from a door between cars, sits across from White.]
WHITE: You can't walk between cars while the train is in motion. Or even when it's not. That's a new law.
BLACK: Have me arrested, professor, and how are you?
WHITE: How indeed. Yourself?
BLACK: Same ol'.
WHITE: You ride this train normally?
BLACK: Normally, and abnormally. I go to work, I go home. This train, the Empire Builder.
WHITE: The first time I've run into you on the Empire Builder. Don't you dwell on that other line, you know, where you get to play angel?
BLACK: I mix things up a little sometimes to make life more interesting. Get to experience something different. Spies do it all the time for security purposes. This is New York, so you always think of alternative ways to get around, just in case. There's always more than one road from here to there, right, professor?
WHITE: Just askin'. Not aiming for an interrogation. Don't need a thorough analysis, a doctoral thesis.
BLACK: So I pass your class? Get an A?
WHITE: Long day at work?
BLACK: We slaves make our best effort to make the master happy while he builds his empire.
WHITE: Your self-victimization is showing. It's excessive and misguided and counterproductive, not to mention unattractive.
BLACK: So you've resigned yourself to your chains?
WHITE: What chains? I don't see any. And who is this master of yours, and what empire is he building?
BLACK: Just because you don't see something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We are all slaves, each of us doing our part in the grander scheme. Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. The master's plan we don't get to see. We wouldn't understand it even if it was in front of our eyes, and we're staring right at it.
WHITE: Faith has no place in my universe. Only the physical is real. Subatomic particles, quarks, superstrings, dark matter, dark energy, ten dimensions or eleven, manual typewriters. Much of this multiverse we don't even know the characteristics of, what rules things abide by. We're not even able to see most of these things. But as you so wisely said, just because you don't see something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
BLACK: That sure is deep, professor, too deep for me to understand. Now I recall you from last we met. You deserve a Nobel Prize just for being able to repeat these things so effortlessly. But what's the difference between your world and mine? Seems to me the ignorance is even all around. The only difference being the arrogance in the way we behold that ignorance. Exhibit it for other people to see. Get them to praise us for our magificent performance and superior intelligence.
WHITE: I suppose there are smarter people studying these things at places like Harvard and MIT. Or those geniuses at SFI. This religion of yours with the harsh punishing God, doesn't it have a history of ignorance and arrogance? Its own exhibition of magnificence and superiority? Hypocrisy.
BLACK: You have a point there. You made it perfectly clear with the exclamation point I distinctly hear at the end of your last sentence.
WHITE: The exclamation point has no place in literature. And literature is all tragedy. Embrace the nothingness, that's all there is.
BLACK: Coming to a station. I'm getting off this stop.
WHITE: But this isn't our stop yet. Don't go out there. You know what's out there.
[Train door opens. Black steps out.]
WHITE: [Yelling out the door] I'll be here tomorrow. I'll see you here tomorrow, here on the Empire Builder. I'll be waiting on the 1:17. Okay? Okay?
[FADE to strains of something from Miles Davis's "Kind Of Blue" or John Coltrane's "Blue Train".]
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