Homunculus: Chapter 3: Activation

Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh woke up.

Maybe.

At least, he felt as though he was waking up. His thoughts were still fuzzy and out-of-reach. All he was willing to commit to for sure at this point was an unmistakable sense of disorientation. If experience were any guide, this was a sign that either some kind of heavy sedative was wearing off, or he was starting to recover from a very good party from the night before. Unfortunately, it was probably the former.

His body felt numb and his mouth was dry and tasted blue. Wait, something was wrong. Blue? He meant two. No, that wasn’t right either.

Jacob lifted his arm to rub the sleep out of his eyes, which turned out to be trickier than he thought since his arm didn’t appear to exist anymore. Which was just as well, since the arm that wasn’t there passed right through his head and continued driving downward towards anchovies.

Jacob closed his eyes to put his thoughts in order. They seemed to be closed already, seeing as how he couldn’t, well, see anything anyway, but he closed them a second time just to make sure. There was disorientation, and then there was disorientation. And whatever this was, it was both.

Jacob tried to remember whatever it was that had happened to him, since as strange as it all was, it also seemed a little familiar. He ignored the indistinct buzzing that now came from the blue-tasting darkness — well, blue-green now, but whatever — and tried to think. Severe dissociative thought, phantom everything syndrome, it was all, all…

The word he was looking for eluded him until the buzzing shifted into a wet gurgle.

All side effects.

Jacob cautiously opened his eyes and saw that whatever darkness may or may not have been there before was now a dark gray, as though light were filtering in from somewhere through fog. He tried calling out to the gurgle, but only managed to mumble a “buh?” But he definitely felt his tongue touch the inside of his mouth and a faint breath pass through his lips, which was the only thing so far that seemed to make much sense.

Continuing to lay on his back — atop what he dared not try to figure out just yet — Jacob focused on the gurgle. As his senses returned, the gurgle resolved into a cluster of consonants and vowels, and then words, and then English words, and finally particular English words, repeated over and over: “Don’t panic, Jacob. Jacob? Don’t panic.”

“OK”, Jacob whispered.

The voice became a cacophony of cheers.

“He wasn’t going to panic,” Dave Vargas said once the cheers from the others in the room died down. He scratched his beard.

“Hey, if I were him, I’d want the first words I heard to be something friendly and reassuring,” Dave Stevenson replied.

“No, I mean, right now he’s probably physically and psychologically incapable of panicking. Or of doing much else, really, until he fully comes around.”

“Still, though, it’s the thought that counts.”

Dr. Maxwell Newhausen tugged the microphone away from the two Daves and towards him, and asked, “Jacob, how are you feeling?”

“But did we really need the first words to be a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide?” New Dave asked, ignoring Maxwell’s interruption.

“OK, first, he’s the one who’s supposed to say the first words,” Other Dave retorted, pointing a thumb at the bank of computer screens in front of them. “And if you really want ‘buh’ to go down in the history books, go right ahead. Second, it’s not my fault that Morse wasted ‘What hath God wrought?’ on a freaking telegraph line. That’d be way more appropriate here.”

“Would you two shut up for a minute?” Maxwell half-shouted, half-whispered at the Daves, as he held his hand over the microphone. “Jacob, can you hear me? How do you feel?”

“I think…” came Jacob’s voice from the speaker. Other Dave punched a few keys, and one of the monitors zoomed in on a three-dimensional rendering of Jacob’s face as his body lay horizontally in a featureless void. “I think ‘buh’ about summed it up.”

“Well, just keep still for a little while longer while your brain gets caught up on things,” Maxwell advised.

“And don’t look around too much just yet,” Other Dave shouted to be picked up by the microphone. “We haven’t gotten around to loading the environment yet.”

“What do you mean?” Jacob asked. The three men in the room knew that technically, of course, it wasn’t Jacob, but for the moment at least it would be a lot less confusing for everyone if they thought of the person they saw and heard through the control console as Jacob. Especially for Jacob; he had enough on his mind to think about.

“Hang on, just close your eyes for a second and don’t look down,” New Dave said.

Just as Jacob had been getting accustomed to his perceptions being a lot less disjointed, the grayish void around him suddenly vanished from existence, and he found himself staring at a smoothly shaded white surface. Once the momentary disorientation of the change passed — he probably should have listened to the voice’s advice after all, he thought — he looked around and saw that he was in some kind of room. He looked down and saw he was lying on a bed. Not a hospital bed, just an ordinary bed. Almost ordinary. Something looked a bit off about it, but since this was the least off things had looked recently, Jacob wasn’t going to worry about that just yet.

Especially not when his attention was drawn to his body itself, which no longer had the pale and atrophied look he had lamentably become accustomed to over the past several months. He didn’t quite look normal, either, but his body did look like something that could almost pass for healthy. Jacob then noticed the lack of beeping medical equipment or hanging IV bags anywhere nearby.

“It worked,” Jacob said quietly.

“Yes it did,” came a voice from the other side of the room.

Jacob turned his head — bodily motion seemed to be working normally now — and saw a computer sitting on a gray metal desk. There were some squiggly lines moving on the screen that Jacob’s couldn’t interpret. Farther down that wall there was a closed wooden door. A series of overhead lights illuminated the room. But that was about it; the rest of the walls were light blue but otherwise featureless and undecorated, nor were there any windows anywhere.

“Huh,” Jacob said.

“Something wrong?” a different voice asked. It was definitely coming from the computer.

“I was expecting something a bit more…”

“More what?”

“Matrix-y.”

“Dammit.”

“Pay up,” said a third voice.

“Fine,” said the second.

“What’s going on?” Jacob asked.

“I bet New Dave it’d take you at least an hour before you mentioned The Matrix,” the voice replied.

“Twelve minutes,” said the third voice.

“Do you think you can walk yet?” the first voice asked.

“I think so,” Jacob replied, slowly lifting himself up into a sitting position, steadying himself with both hands against the mattress.

“OK, but take it easy. Even normally, someone bedridden for months would have some trouble walking after all that time. Just use the walker until you get a feel for walking again.”

Jacob looked around. “What walker?”

A pause. More faintly, he heard the first voice say, “Would you two knock it off for a minute? You forgot to load the walker into the environment. It’d like his first steps not to result in a faceplant. Especially not if you two have a bet about that too.”

Jacob then heard a faint clicking sound. His vision still seemed a bit off, but he could hear perfectly well. Without warning, a walker silently appeared next to the bed.

“Don’t overdo it,” the first voice said, at normal volume.

“And for the record, we didn’t have any other bets going,” called the second.

Jacob slowly stood up, putting most of his weight on the walker. “Just how many of you are there?” he asked, as he experimented with balancing on his own two feet.

“This is Dr. Newhausen,” the first voice said. “You remember me, right, Jacob?”

Jacob thought. “We met a couple months ago, right? When you had me sign all that paperwork.”

“That’s right, Jacob,” Maxwell replied. “And several times after that as we discussed what you’d be experiencing right now.”

Jacob nodded. The dissociation from before; Dr. Newhausen had warned him about that.

“Who else?” Jacob asked.

“Dave Vargas,” New Dave said.

“And Dave Stevenson,” added Other Dave.

“Who?” Jacob asked.

“They’re two of the developers that made all this work,” Maxwell explained. “You’ll be working with them to take care of any of your usual needs here.”

Jacob stopped and thought about that. “What counts as usual?”

“You name it,” replied New Dave. “Eating, drinking, sleeping, whatever you need.”

“Right, right,” Jacob said. Being stuck in a hospital bed, fed through IVs and tubes, drifting in and out of consciousness more than sleeping, that had been what passed as ‘usual’ for him. Normal daily activities would be a change of pace after that. No, wait, that couldn’t be normal. “But,” Jacob said hesitantly, “I’m in a computer, right?”

“We imaged your brain and nervous system and reconstructed them in a simulated environment inside a computer, yes,” corrected Maxwell.

“Inside a rack full of computers,” corrected New Dave.

“Inside a bunch of racks full of computers,” corrected Other Dave.

“So why would I need to eat or drink or sleep?” asked Jacob.

“Because that’s how we programmed you,” said New Dave.

“Specifically,” added Maxwell, “we don’t know for sure that you really do. But we also don’t know what the effects on the human brain are of being deprived of food or water or sleep indefinitely are, even if there’s no longer any strict biological need for them.”

“In other words, let’s make sure ‘normal’ works before we start monkeying with it,” said Other Dave.

“Good idea,” Jacob said. Minimizing the amount of experimentation being done on him was probably a good thing, especially while he was still re-mastering the art of bipedalism. He looked around at the spartan room he was in. “Speaking of good ideas, is there anything you can do about this place?”

“The Daves should be able to help you with that,” answered Maxwell. “They don’t need me here for that. Oh, and Jacob?”

“Yes?”

“Welcome to Project Simulacrum.”


Chapter word count: 1,765 (+98)
Total word count: 5,228 / 50,000 (10.456%)