Homunculus: Chapter 9: Survival

Jacob was furious. The computer screen followed him as he paced back and forth in his environment, clenching and unclenching his fists in front of him. New Dave turned the volume knob of the speakers to the left.

“None of you bothered to tell me I was dead,” he fumed.

“We were waiting for the right time to tell you,” New Dave said.

“We wanted to give you a chance to get used to the environment before you started worrying about other things,” added Other Dave.

“Worrying,” said Jacob.

“We predicted the activation process would be putting you under enough stress as it was,” Other Dave explained.

“So I have to learn about my death third-hand from people talking about the news coverage of it?”

“I’d hardly call Chet Arrow ‘news.’”

“Jacob, just take a couple deep breaths and calm down,” said New Dave.

“OK, fine, I’ll get right on that. Oh wait, I can’t breathe, because I’m dead.”

The Daves looked at each other and shrugged. There was a beep and a click behind them. They turned to see Maxwell enter the lab, his face grim and determined.

New Dave hit the microphone’s mute button. “How’d it go?” he asked.

“The PR boys have it figured out,” Maxwell replied. He gestured towards the console. “How’s he handling the news?”

“Not well. Maybe you can talk some sense into him.” New Dave rolled his chair to the side, giving Maxwell room to sit down at the computer. Maxwell stared at it for a few moments.

“How do I…?” he asked.

Other Dave reached over and hit the mute button.

“Jacob, can you hear me? This is Dr. Newhausen.”

“I don’t know, maybe you can drag my body out of whatever gutter it’s laying in and ask it,” Jacob replied.

“Jacob, please,” Maxwell replied, his voice calm and measured. “You knew that this was inevitable. It was the whole reason you funded Project Simulacrum in the first place.”

Jacob slowed down. Maxwell was right; in the months following the dot-com crash, Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh had taken the fortune he had made from selling off his Internet startups and became an angel investor. Initially, his portfolio included a variety of high-risk, bleeding-edge startups, one of which was researching ways to implement neural simulation. Maxwell was in charge of that project, before the startup began to show some indications of progress and was acquired by Medimetics.

A few years after that, the Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh that had been recognized as one of the lucky survivors of the crash dropped out of the public spotlight. Maxwell knew the reason: a medical diagnosis that set Jacob’s life expectancy at about the end of the decade. About this time, Jacob reshuffled his portfolio, putting some of it into the growing real estate market and the rest into Medimetics, specifically becoming the primary source of funding that enabled Project Simulacrum. And once Jacob grew skittish about the prospects of real estate months before the mortgage crisis, he sank his second fortune solely into Medimetics. His money came with but one condition: that he be the first human test subject, that life being preferable to none at all.

His fortunes weren’t the only cost Jacob paid to see Project Simulacrum come to fruition. His seemingly reckless investment strategy and increasing obsession with the company strained his relationship with his wife to the breaking point. As his trial separation from her turned into a divorce in all but paper, Jacob signed the series of consent forms Maxwell presented him as the project became a reality.

Maxwell didn’t know how much of the collapse of Jacob’s health was due to his medical condition, how much to the stresses of funding a one-in-a-trillion shot at survival, or how much to his personal life. Nor did it really matter, as far as Maxwell was concerned. The important thing was, the Mark VII became operational before Jacob grew completely unresponsive.

“We all knew you — not you, the physical you, the old you — didn’t have much time left,” Maxwell continued. “Conspiracy theories aside, I can assure you the Mark VII had no ill effects on your physical health after the procedure. And just to be doubly sure of that, it’s been taken out of operation until it can go through a full suite of tests and technical review to confirm that it did not contribute to the coma.”

“Out of operation?” Jacob asked. No longer pacing, he now stood facing the computer terminal in his environment, his face filling the monitor in the lab. “Are you saying there’s other–”

“The Mark VII has a legacy mode where it performs a standard MRI scan,” Maxwell explained, anticipating Jacob’s question. “It’s rather unnecessary if you ask me, but it was the only way marketing could convince the hospital to install it. They wanted something they could use before the Mark VII’s results were fully validated. And no, none of the patients that have gone into the Mark VII in legacy mode have had any complications that can be traced back to the machine. The fact that the old you entered a coma afterward is just a coincidence. A coincidence, mind you, that shows just how close we came.”

“But I died two whole months ago. I haven’t been here–”

“The old you died,” corrected Maxwell.

“Just because we scanned you half a year ago doesn’t mean the simulation was ready yet,” added New Dave. “We wanted to make sure all the bugs had been worked out before we tried loading you. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”

“We took the precaution of interring your old body under a false name, just in case there was any unpleasantness such as the kind that some people are trying to stir up.”

“My old body…” Jacob said quietly.

“It’s not like you were going to be able to go back to it anyway,” Other Dave said. New Dave kicked his shin and glared at him.

“So what now?” Jacob asked.

“Now,” Maxwell replied, smiling faintly, “we make sure the public understands that you, the new you, are the real you, not the old you. We need to get your voice out into the public square, so the public learns to identify with you as a person, not some kind of computer program.”

“Because that’s what’s best for the company, right?” Jacob said doubtfully.

“There is that, but what’s good for the company is also good for you, Jacob.”

Understanding flashed in New Dave’s eyes. “If the public’s against us and there’s pressure to shut the project down…”

“… then that’s it for me,” finished Jacob. “Survival.”

Maxwell nodded. “Unfortunately, there’s nowhere else you’d be able to go.”

“So what do I do?”

“For now, essentially the same thing we had been planning to get your voice out. We’re working on a way to set up some kind of talk show circuit for you, but since you’re more or less a shut-in here, that’s mostly going to mean an Internet presence. Tell the world about your experiences, what you think, whatever, as long as they get to know you. Everything else will follow from that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m already late for a brief to the CEO.” Maxwell nodded to the Daves and let himself out.

Jacob stood silently, his eyes closed, slowly tapping his finger against his leg.

“He does know I still don’t have access to the Internet, right?” Jacob finally said.

“You don’t?” New Dave asked, turning to another of the computer terminals. “I thought I fixed that this morning.”

“I can check again… no, still nothing.”

New Dave cursed silently, staring at the series of network diagrams on the screen in front of him. He traced a line through a series of boxes and circles and arrows, his finger hovering a fraction of an inch away from the display.

“This is all jacked up,” he concluded. “This has got you running through just about every firewall in the building. No wonder you can’t get out to anything.” He sat their silently, eyes fixed on the screen, thinking. “Unless…”

New Dave pushed away from the terminal and swung his eyes around the room, surveying the layout. He mentally overlaid the network diagram over what he saw. The two machines in the corner were hooked up to the test rig. The three on the desk along that wall connected to the operational system down the hall. The three in the center hooked up to the R&D intranet, which connected all the labs together but didn’t even link to the corporate intranet, not since the time marketing had poached one of their sensitive schematics to use as a background in a trade brochure. But the two computers on the wall by the door were on the corporate intranet, which linked to the DMZ, which by definition…

“Do we have any spare Cat-6 in the cabinet?” he asked.

Other Dave peeked inside the drawer. “Yeah. Why?”

New Dave pointed as he talked. “We tunnel the virtual network interface of Jacob’s box out of the operational rig and bridge it to there. We run the cable from that switch, over the ceiling tile, into that switch there, into the intranet. From there, we’re golden; it looks just like another box on the corporate LAN, as far as the firewalls care.”

Other Dave considered that. “Couldn’t we just figure out what filter rules need to be changed on the routers we already have running–”

“If you want to go through a Network ECP,” New Dave said, shaking his head. “That’ll take a month, and then you-know-who will just kill it anyway, since it touches the operational rig, and we’re back to square one. We need this done now, or corporate will cave to public pressure and shut us down. Unless you’ve got a better idea?”

Other Dave didn’t say anything.

“Well then, screw the rules, I have deadlines.”

“Ha! In America!” said Other Dave.

“… What?”

“Huh? I thought you were quoting… never mind.”


Chapter word count: 1,676 (+9)
Total word count: 15,841 / 50,000 (31.682%)

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