When I wrote the last sentence of Artifact, I knew far more about its hero, Lance, than when I had written the first line. After all, we experienced hell together, sometimes traveled down roads that were designed and predetermined, and sometimes pulled each other over unexpected obstacles and into unknown (and often terrifying) territories. He's a scientist who wants to understand the secrets of a long dead race of free thinkers, scientists and engineers, in the hope of learning more about us as parallel species; he wants to find the purpose of his existence and where he came from; he wants his identity back; he wants to know why the ground is falling apart beneath his feet; he wants his life to mean something more than the random characteristics of his situation. And he does eventually become the hero of his own story, somewhat reluctantly. But he is not this story’s only hero.
A little more than halfway through the book, Lance encounters Sarah – a ten year old girl who witnesses her father sacrifice himself to save her life – who unwittingly helps Lance escape the various knots he ties himself into. Beyond a way for me to express the utter terror Lance is feeling, I hadn’t really anticipated much use for this minor character. But the Artifact had other ideas. It eventually appointed Sarah as the anchor that kept Lance invested in the resolution of his story, and so she followed him through the many splintered thoroughfares of Time, and into the terrible, epistemological uncertainty of what the next page would bring; and she accompanied him on a voyage that led to her and Lance’s ultimate revelation. By the third act, Sarah and Lance are separated, and the story alternates between them as the Artifact runs through its adaptation protocol, searching for the other half of its signal, and then they’re reunited again, and then they lose each other again.
I had a general outline for how the story was going to go – a kind of broad-brush frame work that I could attach everything to – but none of this was planned from the beginning. And just as the Artifact made Lance essential to Sarah’s survival – drawing upon Hebb’s Rule of adaptation – so it also made Sarah an essential key to Lance’s survival. Sarah was not the intended hero of this story. She couldn't have been – she didn’t serve the Artifact in the same way its engineers did. She wasn't as subject to its whims as Lance. She didn't even want to be a hero of anything. All she wanted was her family back. Sarah is instead an aspect of the innate, lost and directionless people of the world, the hoi polloi of which Lance is the ill-fated vehicle. She’s a hero to those of us who are as equally concerned about what our lives mean, and why we’re here, and where we’re going.
Through the expression of her innocence, Sarah became Lance’s hero, and in saving him, Lance was able to pick up the pieces: he weathered the storm and found a way to drag himself out of his own misfortunes and perils, and suffered his own heartrending injuries as best he knew how. That’s the surprising, awe-inspiring thing about creating these kinds of narratives: at some point, you’ll find that the story suddenly takes on a life of its own. As it turned out, Sarah was the character I'd been looking for without knowing it, until she turned up on the roof of that semi-trailer, filthy and covered with the grit of survival, burying her face into Kate’s heaving chest, not wanting to see her father ripped to pieces, such a small and unremarkable character, who fired Lance’s heart, and gave him the inspiration he needed to press on. In stories, as in real life, we should always keep an eye out for people like her.