A Search For Meaning

by Roy Fortitude

Foreword

I wrote this story for the National Novel Writing Month of 2011, where the challenge was to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. It's a challenge I would never have thought I was capable of; while I've written stories of considerable length before, never did any of them last that long before either finishing or I grew unsatisfied with them, and they have never been on that consistent a basis, with me often writing for long bursts every week or two for a couple of months until I finished a chapter.

But not only was it simply being able to write a story this long, this quickly, especially in a busy month such as November. The main reason I generally find myself taking a long time to write stories is due to the level of attachment to the idea I develop, which prevents me from wanting to accept any form of "good enough". I knew if I participated in NaNoWriMo, it would mean having to write without caring as much as I normally do about just how good it is, as if I hesitated on anything, it would mean time lost that I could not afford.

However, because I do have such a deep caring for ideas I already have, even if I haven't begun writing them down, I couldn't simply choose one of my various stories I had cooking in my mind and write them in the style that the event demands. Thankfully, however, I did manage to come up an idea of sorts, roughly 20 minutes before midnight of the 1st. I had long enough to think of a plot, without feeling attached in any way that would keep me from writing, no matter what.

Now, one month later, I look back, creatively and physically exhausted, and generally not pleased with myself and the story I've written. I think that might be inevitable after the time spent writing it, but I personally can't see the good in the story, and would much rather list off all the areas where I feel it falls short that I should have simply done better at. I only just managed to reach 50,000 words, and though the story isn't finished, I highly doubt I'll come back to this to finish it up, now that I'm not bound by a deadline.

Nevertheless, I'm at least glad that I, even if only barely, passed the threshold. And even though I think it's awful, I hope someone out there has at least some enjoyment reading this story of mine. I preemptively thank you for reading even the smallest amount of this story. It means a great deal to me.

And with that out of the way, on with the story!

Regards,

Roy Fortitude, December 1st, 2011

Prologue

"Look, I'm telling you, it's just not possible," came the tired reply from a man who clearly didn't want to be in his current conversation anymore. "They need us; always have and they always will. Besides," he said, taking his chin from the resting place upon his open palm to remove his glasses and wipe the sweat from his brow, "you can't manufacture a soul."

The man sitting on the opposite side of the table in their stuffy break room leaned back in his seat, feeling and hearing it groan from the stress. "Again," he said, his voice ringing with boredom more than exhaustion, "the realms of possible and impossible are always, always, always shifting, every single day. How many times do I have to bring up the fact that artificial intelligence on the level it exists at today used to be impossible? There can't be a hard limit to what we can achieve; and who's to say this isn't the next step?"

"Everyone else in existence besides you," the bespectacled man retorted flatly. "Honestly, you keep this up and one day, it won't matter how brilliant or revolutionary you are with anything you do; you'll be thrown out with all the scraps and forgotten just as easily."

"Not likely," the second man replied confidently. Or was it smugly…? "Interns and assistants and colleagues and suits come and go, but Jamison ain't going anywhere." A short silence fell as he went for a drink of his water, filled with almost more ice than water. All either could hear between them was the gentle hum of the engines, far below.

At last, Jamison put down his beverage. "Just wait, Stevie-boy: I'll give the robots true life."

"You two still talking about this?" A new voice, from the recently-opened door leading out of the break room, floated through. Five men filtered through the narrow doorway and took up seats around the small room. The first in, the speaker, carried a brown paper bag with him.

'Stevie-boy' looked over his shoulder. "About time," he said, smiling.

"You two should've come with," the speaker said, walking over to a counter.

"Nope; always work to be done," Jamison said, standing and walking over to the counter as well. The speaker snorted.

"Which explains why you're in the break room, I suppose." He looked over at 'Stevie-boy'. "So what's your reason for staying behind, Steve?"

Steve turned his wheelchair around and manoeuvred it over to the counter. "Because, genius, someone decided to not hold the doors; and I didn't particularly feel like playing catch-up. Gimme," he said, reaching his hands up to the paper bag, unable to reach the top of it. The 'genius' reached into the bag and pulled out a few white containers.

"Yeah, yeah, I gotcha your food," he said, passing them to Steve, who immediately raced back to his table and tore into them. 'Genius' turned his attention to Jamison. "Seriously though, Jamison, you need to get out of here once in awhile. Break room aside, it isn't healthy; I'm sure you can recognise that."

"Science isn't going to advance itself," Jamison muttered absently, grabbing containers of his own out of the bag. 'Genius' furrowed his eyebrows.

"Jamison…when was the last time you actually left the module?" he asked. Jamison mumbled something around a mouthful of food, not even bothering to take a seat as he wolfed it down.

"I might not have made the emphasis emphatic enough when I said it before," 'Genius' said, "so I'll say it again: Jamison, you need to get out of here and be away from your work. Even if only for an hour, you need to do something else. You hearing me?"

"Mmm-hmm," Jamison replied, swallowing the last of his mouthful. He collected his claimed containers up into his arms and started towards the door. "Well, thanks for bringing back lunch; gotta get back to it though. See you at dinner!"

"I-" began 'Genius', failing to get the rest out before Jamison left the room entirely. "Ugh," he sighed, snatching up the bag and slinking into the seat opposite Steve.

"Don't worry about him," Steve said. "He's fixated on that damn theory of his. He'll never listen to us."

"Yes, but he's always fixated on something and he's always ignoring everything else. It's gonna kill him one of these days."

"Either that or he's going to make a breakthrough," Steve mused. 'Genius' picked up the glass of ice and water, now more water than ice.

"Really? Don't tell me you believe all that stuff he says now; that's your fastest ticket out of here."

"I'm not saying I believe anything," Steve said, as 'Genius' drank from the glass. "What I'm saying is that for the ninety percent of his time that he's always holed up in his office-lab, something inevitably would have to result from all of it, right?"

"Maybe," 'Genius' replied, placing the glass back down. "But he's been saying all the same general stuff since day one. He's not going to have too many years left to make a breakthrough of any kind; and there's not a single other person who's gonna carry forward his way of thinking, especially once he's out of here. If he wants to make an impact, he'd better at least make it happen soon."

Meanwhile, in the private confines of Jamison's quarters, the scientist-in-question's fingers blurred together as they hammered out text from his keyboard to his computer screen, only matched in speed by the whispers flying from his mouth. As each new line of code appeared on the screen, another fifty almost-immediately would push it off-screen.

And then, all of a sudden, he stopped. His fingers continued to twitch slightly, though they refrained from pressing any keys. He stared, wide-eyed, hardly believing what his eyes beheld.

"That's… That's it," he said quietly. "It's ready!" A small fit of giggles threatened to burst through; and, indeed, made through on their threats. "Hehehe, it's finally ready! Ahahahaha!" Despite his glee, he kept a hushed voice. Jamison pushed his chair back and flailed his arms around in excitement, practically squealing.

"Finally, haha!"

A few minutes later, the man composed himself, keeping his happiness confined to an ear-to-ear grin. He looked around his living space, thinking about the next step.

"Designs," he said to himself after a moment, running over to a second desk that contained paper. He immediately began sketching out a rough humanoid figure, making notes at various points of the drawing. The single detail that he gave attention to, however, sat on the left breast of the figure. An emblem of sorts. After finishing the emblem, he quickly rewrote it again at the top of the page, adding in the long form, titling the piece.

Σ7 | Sigma-7