Homunculus: Chapter 7: Buddha

Jessica had suggested that Douglas take his mind off of his work. Shortly thereafter Medimetics began their press blitz to announce Project Simulacrum to the world.

Being a slow news week, the press was happy to oblige.

Everywhere he had turned for the past sixteen hours, there it was. It was on the front page of all the newspapers. Below the fold, yes, but still there. Television news wasn’t nearly so demure. When the news channels weren’t showing clips from the half-hour documentary that Medimetics had commissioned as part of their press package, the talking heads were blathering about it. And when they weren’t there was still some mentioned of it in the news crawl somewhere. Except when it went away during commercial breaks, in which case there’d be advertisements for when they’d be running the documentary in its entirety, bracketed by still more discussion.

Douglas ordinarily could stand to watch any of it, but he felt compelled to at least keep an eye on it periodically, if only to find out if any truly sensitive information about the project had leaked out as well. Granted, Douglas wasn’t himself generally privy to that sort of information. His job didn’t require him to know how any of it worked, at least not when one got past discussions on the information flows in the system and who was authorized to access what domains and the like. Besides, he lacked the background in bioinformatics and computational biology to be able to follow the meetings he had been compelled to sit in on once the speaker got past the introductory slide. But Douglas knew he could recognize hard numbers and algorithmic details when he saw them, even if he only had an inkling of what they actually meant. Fortunately, the media didn’t seem interested in exceeding Douglas’s expectations of them; if there were sensitive information leaks, they were well-hidden inside torrents of misinterpretations, unfounded speculation, unfettered punditry, and excruciating analysis of what people were saying on Twitter about it.

Not that Douglas was really going to complain about any of it. After all, if you were going to hide a needle in a haystack, why stop the people shoveling manure into it as well?

He would complain, however, that the TVs mounted in the corners of the coffee shop were each tuned into a different news channel, each of which were still going on about it. Even his morning coffee wouldn’t provide a respite. That left his list of places he could go without hearing about Project Simulacrum at one: the Medimetics web site, which was still effectively being DoSed by everyone hammering it for more information.

Douglas tried to shut the TVs and the newspapers people were holding out of his mind. He fixed his gaze straight in front of him, focused on the line leading up the counter. He needed some kind of distraction, something to keep his mind off of it until he went in to work.

His brain obliged, suddenly recognizing the woman immediately in front of him in line.

“Liz, right?” Douglas asked.

Liz spun around, presumably in surprise at the sound of someone saying her name. “Oh, hi, um, Doug?” she said.

“Douglas,” he corrected, slipping into his stock response. “Doug is a cartoon character.”

“Uh huh. So, we meet again, I guess. What are the odds?”

“Today? No more than one in six, at most,” Doug guessed. Each morning he picked where he’d get his morning coffee by rolling a die. He didn’t want his morning routine to be too predictable, and he knew he couldn’t trust himself to randomly pick where to go on his own. People had horrendously bad intuitions about randomness.

“Oh. So, um, how are things?”


“Right.” Liz’s eyes flashed in recognition of something. “Oh, right! You work for Medimetics, right? Congratulations on the–”

“Thanks,” Douglas cut her off, “but could we please talk about something else?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t care. Anything else.”

“It was a brilliant piece of work, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“That’s what I here,” Douglas replied, stifling a sigh.

“I mean, I wish half of my clients had the vision to produce a full-length video spot like that.”

“It’s really not… what?”

“Most of the time they just want a couple press releases, maybe pick up some advertising slots with heavy penetration with the boomer demographic, but that’s about it. But that video’s got all the news channels buzzing. You can’t pay for that kind of publicity. Believe me, I’ve tried; no one’s willing to pony up that kind of cash.”

“I guess so.” This was going to have to be good enough.

“Are you kidding? It’s already the second day, and you’ve already reached the pinnacle of the news cycle!”

“What’s that?”

“They’re now starting to talk about their coverage of the story. Something has to be huge for it to reach that level.”

“Ugh,” Douglas said.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Isn’t it?” he replied, claiming his coffee from the counter. “There’s nothing worse than listening to the media talk about itself.”


“There’s one thing worse than listening to the media talk about itself.”

“No, you have to focus on the big picture,” Liz said, taking a seat at an empty table and gesturing towards the chair across from her. “You have to look past what they’re saying and look at what it means.”

“It’s just naval gazing,” Douglas said, sitting down. “It means nothing.”

“The words mean nothing, yes, but think about it. Half of marketing is all about how to get your message in the minds of the public.”


Liz shook her head. “Advertising is just one way to do that, and even that only really works when your message is ‘Buy this product.’ But that’s not what they message you have here is. Your message is ‘Medimetics is the leader in brain research.’ You’re defining who you are, your place in the market. That’s the groundwork for everything else. Investors will give you money, because you’re the leader in your field. Customers will pay attention to your advertising, because you’re the leader in your field.”

“What does any of this have to do with media naval gazing?” Douglas asked.

“Patience, young grasshopper,” Liz smiled. She was clearly in her element now.

“Just as long as I don’t have to snatch a pebble from your hand or anything.”

“I promise nothing. Now, you’re complaining about the news. But tell me this: what is news?”

Douglas stared blankly at her. She might as well have asked what a chair is. It’s one of those things that exists so clearly in your mind that you can’t put it into words, something more basic than words.

“It’s things that are new,” Liz continued. “Right there in the name. If your message, that ‘Medimetics is the leader in brain research,’ is news, that means that it is new, which means that Medimetics was previously not the leader in brain research, but it is now. News only cares about what’s different, not what’s the same. The news media covering your message means that it is still news, still a novel concept for your audience.”


“But when they start talking about their coverage of it, your message has reached the next level. It’s transcended news: it’s no longer news, it’s an established fact. They’re no longer saying that ‘Medimetics is the leader in brain research.’ Everyone knows that; that’s just a fact. Now they’re asking, ‘Why are we wasting our time talking about this?’ The unspoken answer: we shouldn’t be, because this isn’t news anymore, everyone knows it, it’s no longer interesting. When they start focusing on their coverage of you, that means you’ve won.”

Douglas reflected on that for a moment. It seemed wrong; it ran counter to his intuition of how it was supposed to work. But the way Liz explained it, it almost made sense. Finally, he hazarded, “I never looked at it quite like that.”

“That’s the brilliant part of it; almost no one does. That’s why it works so well. It’s downright zen.”

“Zen,” Douglas said doubtfully.

“It is. Think about marketing nirvana.”

“Why would you need to sell people on the idea of freedom from suffering?”

“No, not marketing nirvana. Only record companies are interested in that. I mean, the highest level of enlightenment of your marketing message.”

“I think you might be mixing up your Eastern religions.”

“Doesn’t matter. Think of Nike. When’s the last time you actually saw an advertisement for Nike?”

“Probably half a dozen times this morning,” Douglas guessed.

“Wrong. You’re just thinking of their logo. Nike is so ingrained in your mind, all they need to do is paste their logo on something to remind you of them. They’ve evolved beyond the need to tell your their message. Their message is practically part of our culture.”

“So what you’re saying is, the fact that pundits are spending hours talking about whether pundits are talking to much about Simulacrum proves that, um…” Douglas tried to remember his comparative religions class in high school, “Medimetics is on the Eightfold Path?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but you’re already ahead of the pack. You’re the one everyone else is going to be gunning for.”

“So all we have to do is dodge a hail of bullets coming from every direction. Which means my job is to keep the Buddha in supply of bulletproof vests, I guess.”

“Tough job. You know what they say, ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, shoot him.’”

“I, uh, what?” The metaphor was rapidly spiraling out of control. “And you do realize we’re using ‘enlightenment’ to mean ‘huge piles of money,’ right?” If this metaphor became any sicker, it would have to be euthanized.

“Trust me, it all makes sense with a degree in marketing and a minor in spiritualism.”

Douglas would have to take her word on that. Unless. An idea flashed in his mind, something that could address several of the issues he found himself wrestling with. There was no time to for even a cursory risk analysis, just the sense that this was either a very good or a very bad idea, and there was no time to figure out which it was before the window of opportunity closed.

“Perhaps,” he started, silently hoping for the best, “you could try explaining it to me over dinner some time.”

“Hmm,” she smiled, “maybe in exchange for explaining how exactly one put a brain inside a computer anyway?”

“I promise nothing.”

“Good enough for me.”

Chapter word count: 1,768 (+101)
Total word count: 12,311 / 50,000 (24.622%)

2 Responses

  1. Ooh, smooth!

  2. I was wondering how I was going to make this work after how Chapter 2 ended.

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