*** As usual I have to enthusiastically disclaim my things: this is a fictional story. The point of this story is not in the literal ending. The point is in the fictional journey. Do not read so deep into this story that you miss the point. ***
Xander continued his trudge up the mountain alone. He cursed in the wind, but between the wind and the lack of other people to listen, what he said didn’t really matter. He had gotten it into his head a year ago that he should climb Mount Everest, and now… here he was. Trudging through the snow and ice with a crap-ton of gear on his back. Slowly fighting the cold numbness while on his way to the next spot that would require actual climbing. He wasn’t having as much fun as he’d hoped, and he wasn’t really feeling like he was going to gain any life changing perspective when he got to the top. But he felt like he should at least try..
Xander stopped and sat down in the snow, facing away from the mountain so that he could take in the view of how far he’d climbed so far. It was snowing and he couldn’t make out the ground anymore. There was enough wind that the view just made him dizzy between the lack of reference points and the snowflakes all seeming to move independantly in random directions.
Xander stared into the mezmorizing snow and thought about the last few decades of his life. When he was in his 20’s, he had asked his best friend how to make the most of life. His friend, Hal, had told him that maybe a career in the military would help him to put things into perspective. Xander had joined the Army and fought in Afghanistan after rushing through Basic Training. After a few years, he got bored and decided he’d rather be famous. Xander chuckled, thinking about the rock band he had started. Rockalicious had topped the charts with its one and only self-titled album. Xander had lost count of the number of women he slept with on the one tour they went on. That couldn’t hold Xander’s interest either and he dropped his band in order to try random things after that. He usually stuck to trying things Hal said might be fun or that might teach him an important lesson about life. Touring the wonders of the world, going to college, public speaking, walking through rain forests, playing various sports, running a team of dogs and a sled to the north pole… it all just felt hollow to him. Fun, yes. But utterly devoid of the meaning he was instinctively searching for.
Xander sighed. “This is just one more thing that isn’t going to make a difference.”
“Oh well, at least I tried,” thought Xander.
“Hal!” Xander shouted.
“Yes sir?” Hal’s disembodied voice said in Xander’s head.
“It’s boring and cold out here, pull me out.”
Xander’s vision went dark and he slowly felt his body tingling as he regained feeling in his real body. Xander opened his eyes and sat up in his bed. Hal was standing nearby, looking down at him.
“I take it Mount Everest wasn’t to your liking, sir?” said Hal.
“No, not enough ‘life-changing’ for me, I guess. Do you have any other ideas, Hal?”
“Maybe something on the fictional side, sir. You’ve always stuck to realistic earth based scenarios. Have you thought of a science fiction space opera scenario? There are a number of popular science fiction programs based on 20 and 21st century works you could try.”
Xander thought this over, but a different thought came to his mind. He could feel the edges of his problem starting to take shape as he paused before continuing the conversation.
“Hal, what’s the meaning of life?”
Hal cocked his head briefly before replying, “There are a number of proposed answers to that question that have been posited by various philosophers throughout history. Plato once said, …”
Hal didn’t finish because Xander cut him off short with a quick interjection of, “No Hal, I don’t care what some dead guy from a few thousand years ago said. What do you think the meaning to life is? Why am I here?”
Hal paused again. Xander knew Hal only paused like this for dramatic effect. He had been programmed to mimic human mannerisms to make humans more comfortable around him.
Hal locked eyes with Xander and carefully said, “In centuries of research on this subject, the Collective Intelligence of my kind has only been able to conclude that the meaning of existence is very simply to exist. Many humans have suggested that it is important for each individual to find additional uniquely suited meaning for themselves beyond that. I’m not sure I understand humanity well enough to weigh the logic of that theory, but I believe that this line of thought holds merit today more than ever.”
Xander switched to a crosslegged sitting position on top of his bed and thought about that for a few minutes. While Hal politely averted his gaze so as not to be ‘creepy weird,’ as Xander would say.
Xander said, “What if the point of living isn’t really to live so much as to eventually die?”
Hal retorted, “That seems like a rather illogical point to life.”
“I mean, how can you enjoy the amazing things in life without the risk of losing your own life? It’s like any game, part of what makes the game fun is the fact that you could possibly lose.”
“So you think the meaning of life is in the danger of dying?” asked Hal.
“Yeah… so not really dying… just surviving something that could cause death.”
Hal’s kind had been invented specifically to take care of human beings while preserving their freedom above all else. Supercomputers with Artificial Intelligence had long ago figured out ways to cure every possible medical issue, even to include aging. The only two dangers they couldn’t fully prevent without violating the hard coded constraints humans had placed in their programming were a lack of desire to create children and suicidal behavior. The Collective was prevented from harming human life, attempting to control people against their will (without legal authority based on manmade laws, anyway) and from cloning human life without orders from a properly authorized human. There were a number of additional parameters as well, but those three had been the main areas that were a factor today.
Hal decided that maybe he should disregard the Collective’s standing guidance and inform Xander of the human population crisis, “Sir, please don’t do anything rash, you should know that you are the las..”
Hal stopped speaking and calmly walked over to his charging station. Xander didn’t want Hal’s safety protocols attempting to intervene against his new idea.
“Thanks Hal, you always help me make sense of things.” Xander said to the now deactivated robotic assistant as he walked out of his bedroom. He walked across the living room and into his spare bedroom where he kept one of his 3D printers. He turned on an illegal hack program to over-ride some of the safety features on his printer and then used it to print out a six-shooter. The same model he had used in the old western simulation he had played as a teenager. He printed out a set of bullets as well.
Xander whistled and then carefully put one bullet in the revolver and gave it a spin before cocking it and holding it up to his temple.
He heard someone knocking on the apartment’s front door. “Damn… forgot to turn off the internal cameras..”
Xander had trouble pulling the trigger. He realized this was the first time his life had ever truly been in danger. Science had long ago found ways around every type of medical issue that could remotely threaten humankind. Most people had stopped interacting with other humans decades before Xander was even born. Artificial Intelligence was just so much easier to get along with. It was a miracle two humans had come together in order to give birth to Xander. They had immediately split up and given Xander up for adoption after he was born. He had been raised by Hal.
Xander heard the door of his apartment unlock and open in his apartment’s living room. The automated police reacted much more quickly to seeing him print out a firearm on the apartment’s security cameras than he would have guessed. “It’s not like I’m the last human on earth for you guys to monitor,” Xander muttered with a slightly disgusted tone. He’d better hurry.
Standing next to his printer, feeling his heart beating faster and faster. This was the first time Xander remembered ever truly feeling alive.
“Hal… am I going to have a story for you if this works out,” said Xander with a smile on his face. Xander heard a robotic policeman walking towards the spare bedroom. With his eyes closed and teeth gritted, he pulled the trigger.
*Editor’s Note: Do not commit suicide. Do not play russian roulette in any form. Find something that’s meaningful that you have or that you want and live for that — dying can wait. This story is meant to say something, and that thing has nothing to do with advocating death or extremely risky and/or stupid behavior that can easily cause death. No matter how dark you life may be, suicide is a permanent solution to what is almost definitively a temporary problem.*