Homunculus: Chapter 1: Seven

The lighting was all wrong.

Sunlight streamed into the room through the thick glass window, thick enough to drain it of any kind of warmth but not thick enough to stop it from causing a dozen near-blinding reflections as it bounced off the antiseptic white walls. The worst was the small framed painting mounted on the wall opposite the window, one of those bland, generic ones you might find in a hotel room. At the right angle, the light would reflect off the clear plastic cover protecting the painting, turning it into a featureless white rectangle.

Ulric grabbed one end of the heavy curtain — also white, since heaven forbid there be any actual color in the decor — and yanked it over the window, plunging the room in relative darkness. Relative, because the overhead fluorescent lights in the ceiling still let everything up, but without the sun there was at least a chance he could work with this.

Ulric turned to Lance.

“Where’d Lance go?” Ulric asked.

Hank, standing in the door, shifted the weight of the video camera on his shoulder, freeing up his left hand. He pointed his thumb down the hallway and answered, “he wanted to get some B roll of the scanner before we got started down there.”

Ulric grunted. “Well then, you get in here and tell me what you thing.”

Hank took a couple steps forward and glanced around. He shrugged. “Can we move him somewhere else?”

Ulric shook his head. “I already asked at the desk.”

“And?”

“No.”

“Hmm. I think we can work with this anyway. Maybe if we set up a lamp in that corner there…” Hank set the camera down on one of the visitors’ chairs and and started inspecting the room. He’d hold his hand out in one direction as his eye traced a line shooting out from it across the room. Then he’d take a few steps and start the process again.

Ulric checked his watch. If setup took much longer, he’d have to rush this part of the shoot. Not that he cared too much; he was probably going to have to cut out most of what they shot here anyway if the end result wasn’t going to be too depressing.

“Can we unplug any of that?” Hank asked, gesturing towards the racks of equipment clustered near the bed. “I’m not seeing any outlets.”

“Mrrff,” came a noise from the bed.

Ulric stepped up to the foot of the bed and looked down at its occupant for the first time.

“Jesus,” he muttered. “You look like hell.”

“Never felt more alive,” the body mumbled, its voice muffled by the mask over half its face. Its arm moved slightly, jostling the tube for an IV drip and a bundle of cables that ran between the equipment and somewhere inside the sleeve of its nightgown.

“Pretty optimistic way of looking at things, Jacob.”

“Nah. If I were dead, I wouldn’t feel anything. But,” Jacob paused to breathe, “I feel the opposite, so I must be alive.”

Ulric was silently thankful they weren’t filming yet. There’s no way his client would let that line show up in the video.

“So about that equipment,” Hank called, eying the wall sockets.

“Pretty sure I… need that to live,” Jacob wheezed.

“Don’t unplug anything,” Ulric told Hank. “The last thing we need to do is kill him at this point.”

“Thanks,” said Jacob.

“Don’t mention it,” Ulric replied. Seriously, Ulric didn’t want to have to listen to Jacob’s strained voice any more than necessary. Just six months ago during the interviews, he had looked almost healthy, at least as you didn’t watch him struggle to walk without using the IV stand as a crutch. But now… even though Ulric tried to keep a profession distance from his subjects, this was asking a bit much.

Still, Ulric had to get something while he was here. “I don’t suppose there’s anything they can give you to make you look, um…” He searched for the right word, but failing to find it after a few seconds, went with his gut, “less dead?”

“I think they already have,” Jacob replied.

Ulric made a mental note to bring a makeup person next time he did a shoot at a hospital. “Hank, forget about the lighting, we’ll just record audio. We’ll use it as a voice-over for something.” As Hank picked up the camera and pointed it towards Jacob, Ulric turned to Jacob and asked, “so, do you have any, um,…” Don’t call them “last words.” “Anything you’d like to say for posterity before they begin? Anything you’d like the world to here?” Assuming everything worked and the footage ever saw the light of day, at least.

Jacob closed his eyes in thought. Ulric was hoping it was in thought, at least; for the time being, the unchanged readout on what looked like a heart monitor seemed to agree.

Finally, Jacob opened them again. “Ask me that on the other side.”

The second thing Ulric noticed upon entering the room was the hulking machine on the other side of the glass. The first thing was how the lighting was even worse in here, but he had resigned himself to accepting he couldn’t do anything about that. But the second thing was definitely the machine.

Ulric recognized it has an MRI, but it was far bulkier than one he had ever seen, even on TV. It outer shell was completely white and featureless, aside from the Medimetics logo painted on the side and an array of blinking LEDs on the rear end. A thick bundle of cables ran from the back of the machine towards a couple of equipment racks in the far corner of the control room, next to a row of computer terminals.

“I expected something… fancier,” Ulric said.

“It’s a prototype,” replied one of the technicians, looking up from neither the computer terminal nor the laptop next to it. A heavyset man with a dark beard that was in need of a trim, he continued, “No point making it fancy, I don’t care what Marketing says. I just want it to work.”

“It doesn’t look much better on the inside,” Lance added, pointing the camera through the observation windows as the double doors on the other side swung open and Jacob’s bed was wheeled in.

“You went inside it,” Ulric said.

“Yeah.”

“With the camera.”

“It wasn’t on or anything. I wanted to get a good POV shot before they got started.”

“And you’re not in there right now because?”

“I got kicked out once they started it up.”

“But it’s not doing anything.”

“It’s charging,” corrected another technician, poking his head up from where he was crouching next to a rack of equipment behind the heavier one. “A lot of that bulk is batteries and capacitors. The hospital prefers we not cause a blackout when we flip the switch.”

“It doesn’t look like it’s doing anything,” Ulric complained. Masses of plastic sitting there motionless didn’t make for good video.

“Trust me, with the kind of charge it’s building, you really don’t want it to look like it’s doing anything.”

“Why’s that?”

“Even safety glass has limits.”

“But we’re safe here, right?”

“Prototype,” the first technician replied. “Untested prototype.”

“Everything’s perfectly safe,” interjected a tall man in a lab coat as he straightened himself from leaning over another of the terminals. Hank took a step back and lifted his camera a bit higher to keep him in the control room shot. “I’m Dr. Maxwell Newhausen,” the man continued, smiling towards the camera, “and I’ve been personally involved with the development of the Mark VII since its inception. I can assure you the Mark VII is even safer than the Medimetics line of conventional MRIs, which already lead the industry in safety.”

“But it’s still untested, right?” Ulric asked. Newhausen had obviously been coached on what to say, and Ulric’s client would surely want to make sure he had a chance to say his lines.

“Only in the sense that this is the first time we’ve attempted to collect usable data from a scan. That’s where the Daves come in. The Mark VII has undergone countless safety tests and has passed them all.”

“What’s going on down there?” Lance asked, filming Jacob as he was injected with something.

“Just a sedative,” Newhausen replied calmly. “We’ve calculated that the Mark VII will have its best chance of success if the patient’s neural activity is minimized during the scan.”

Hank turned to see as Jacob was loaded onto the scanner bed. Ulric kicked Hank’s foot and pointed him back in the direction of the people in the control room. With a hum barely audible from the control room, the bed pulled Jacob’s motionless body into the Mark VII, stopping once his entire body disappeared within it.

The technicians stared at their computer screens and faintly whispered to one another as, well, as nothing seemed to happen. After a couple minutes, Ulric broke the silence and asked, “so, when are you going to turn it on?”

“Turn it on?” replied the bearded technician. “We’ve already finished the scan.”

“But, it didn’t do anything,” Ulric protested.

“What were you expecting?” grinned the other technician. “An ommmmminous hummmmmmmm? Some other schlocky special effect?”

“There’d've been plenty to see if you could see magnetic fields,” the bearded one added.

“So why is he still in there?” Ulric asked.

“We’re still waiting to see if we got a clean set of data. The scanner generates data faster than the equipment can process it.”

“It’s looking good so far, though, right?” interjected Newhausen.

“At three-nines consistency with 30% left to process,” said the skinnier technician. “We should hit the target four-nines when it’s done.”

“And if you don’t?” asked Ulric.

“We’ll just try again. Which is why,” the bearded technician spoke slowly, as though to a child, “we haven’t bothered unloading the subject yet.”

“And you’ll be able to do that right away?”

“We’d have an hour to recharge, but yeah.”

Ulric nodded. He was pretty sure he knew a place he could at least rent a fog machine on short notice. As long as there was a free outlet on the other side.


Chapter word count: 1,710 (+43)
Total word count: 1,710 / 50,000 (3.42%)

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