Homunculus: Chapter 18: Law

Charlie crumpled the piece of paper and threw it on the floor in frustration. Planning was proving to be far more difficult to do alone than in a group.

The group. Charlie had heard on the news what had happened to Alex and Burt. Martyred, no doubt thanks to the police. Charlie had narrowly avoided the same fate. That night at Medimetics, he had followed his role in the operation to the letter. Once he had picked the lock to the electrical room, he stayed inside and waited for the signal to trip the circuit breaker powering the door lock. It had taken him a few minutes to figure out how to operate the control equipment; he had expected, naively in retrospect, something like the circuit breaker panel in a house. The equipment there had proved to be significantly more complex than that, but not insurmountably so. No matter the interface, you were still severing a physical connection on a wire somewhere, and there’s only so many ways you can do that without depending on electrical power yourself. The manuals and diagrams he found in the room with it helped too.

As did the delay before getting the signal to proceed. Charlie had started to get nervous when the expected time came with no word from the others. He had even thought about calling Alex to see if there was a problem, but he managed to stay calm and stick the plan: don’t move, and wait for the signal. Anything else, such as a phone ringing at the wrong moment, could have ruined everything.

Not that everything hadn’t gotten ruined soon afterwards, but at least Charlie’s conscience was clean. As planned, he had locked the electrical room’s door and left the building once he had restored power to the corridor. He got back into the van and waited for the others. And waited. And waited. He had started to worry again about something going wrong when he had thought he heard police sirens in the distance. Charlie had panicked and ran away from the van and the building and the parking lot on foot. A reckless idea, perhaps, but he had managed to get out of there alive. He hadn’t been willing to stay there and wait for Alex, and without his keys he wouldn’t have been able to start the van.

The worst part of it, even worse than the deaths of Alex and Burt, was the fact that they hadn’t even managed to bring down the abomination, a fact every single news report the next day had gone to great lengths to point out. It was still there, a monument to mankind’s latest attempt to play God. The heathens couldn’t create life by themselves yet, so they resorted to creating a cheap knock-off and trying to convince everyone that it counted. Machines did not have souls, no matter what their scientists liked to pretend.

But ever since that night, silence. Charlie regretted having skipped the funeral service, but he couldn’t risk appearing in public if the cops where indeed looking for him. Their nameless benefactor, the once who had provided the disc that was supposedly going to destroy the abomination from the inside, hadn’t made contact since then either. No doubt he was trying to lay low as well, and if either of them were being watched, there was no point in risking exposing the other.

Which left Charlie alone to finish the job. Another attempt to destroy the abomination was hopeless, since Medimetics had certainly beefed up their security now that they knew it was a target. But if Charlie couldn’t stop them outright, at least he could contain the damage by preventing them from making more attempts to copy anyone else. The scanning machine in the hospital, surely the only one in existence. Destroy it, and you stop them from making any more abominations.

However, Charlie was learning just how difficult planning something like that was without any help. He ignored for the time being the question of how to gain access to the hospital in the first place. He wasn’t too worried about it; doing something like pretending to be visiting a patient ought to be able to get him close enough. No, the hard part was what to do once he came face-to-face with the machine.

Picking a lock and sticking a CD into a computer were simple enough, but destroying a giant piece of medical equipment was another thing entirely. Sure, it was probably fairly sensitive and could be broken by hammering at it a bit, but “broken” implied it could be fixed, and a temporary solution wasn’t going to cut it. He might be able to pry open a panel on it and do… something. That was too dangerous, however, since Charlie had no clue what would be inside it. He couldn’t afford to risk getting blasted with radiation or something if he poked or prodded the wrong thing.

Which left blowing it up, which was easier said than done. It wasn’t like he could just import a vest full of dynamite from the Middle East or anything, and the communists who ran the county government outlawed sales of so much as a firecracker. He could probably find plenty of do-it-yourself instructions on the Internet — he thought it had something to do with fertilizer — but if the cops were watching him, having “how to build a bomb” in his Google history wasn’t going to help him out any.

Whatever the answer was, he had to think of something soon. He was getting tired of jumping every time he heard a siren.

“Case #92874/5, Feldspar-Leigh v. Ivers,” the judge read from the stack of papers in front of her. “Plaintiff alleges defendant used a fraudulent death certificate to gain control of plaintiff’s assets.”

“Excuse me, your honor,” Fred Quinne said hesitantly as he stood up from his seat. This was his first time appearing in court since he was hired by Over Zero. Strictly speaking, this was actually his first time appearing in court, period.

“Yes?” the judge asked.

“My client does not allege the death certificate was issued fraudulently.”

“He doesn’t?”

“No, your honor. ‘Fraudulently’ implies malicious intent. My client instead alleges that it was issued based on incorrect information about his death. Namely, um, that he is still alive.”

“Yes, I stand corrected,” the judge replied unenthusiastically.

“Your honor,” the attorney across the aisle from Fred announced, “my client moves that the court dismiss plaintiff’s suit.”

“On what grounds?”

“Lack of standing. The court is aware that the suit is being brought by, and I shall try to put this delicately, a computer program, not a person.”

“Objection!” Fred interrupted.

“On what grounds?” asked the judge.

“My client, Mr. Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh is, in his current condition, both a computer program and a person.” Law school had hardly prepared him to say something like that.

“Can you cite any precedent supporting allowing a computer program to right to seek legal remedy in a court of law.”

“No, your honor, but there is also no precedent for denying a computer program that right, especially not when that computer program creates a complete representation of a person’s mental state.” Three minutes in, and Fred found himself already falling back on the Air Bud defense: ain’t no rule that a computer program can’t file a lawsuit. “My client hopes to use this case to establish a precedent in that regard, in addition to reclaiming the assets that are rightfully his.”

“That remains to be seen,” said the judge, “but for the sake of today we shall proceed as though such a determination is at least possible.”

“Actually, your honor,” said Ms. Ivers’s attorney, “I do not believe a decision on that point needs to be made to dismiss the case. It can instead be decided on far narrower and, dare I say it, more conventional grounds.”

“I’m listening.”

“Supposing for the sake of argument that plaintiff is considered a person under the law — and I should like to emphasize for the record that such a position is not one that neither my client nor I are advocating — such a determination would merely state that plaintiff is a person, but not the Mr. Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh that he claims to be. And since he cannot establish a legitimate claim to that identity, he is not an aggrieved party and thus has no standing to sue my client.”

“Go on.”

“Mr. Feldspar-Leigh’s medical records clearly show that he survived the procedure which produced the plaintiff. Mr. Feldspar-Leigh and the plaintiff are clearly two separate entities. Not only is there no precedent for transferring the legal identity of a person to another person or other entity, but there is a long tradition of explicitly not treating a copy of a person as sharing the identity, or of claiming any rights to that identity, of the original individual.”

“You can actually cite precedent for that?” the judge asked.

“Absolutely, your honor,” the attorney grinned. “Identical twins are formed when a fertilized egg divides into two, with each resulting cell independently developing into embryos. One is the original cell, and the other is a copy. However, both of the people who develop from those embryos are treated as separate individuals with separate identities under the law, with no consideration of the fact that at one time, one was a near-perfect copy of the other. So too, here, even if plaintiff was created as a near-perfect copy of Mr. Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh — which he is not, certainly not to the extent as identical twins — and if — if — plaintiff is a person under the law, even then it is manifestly not the case that plaintiff has any claim to the identity of Mr. Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh, regardless of whether he has attempted to appropriate that name for himself. Since the assets at the center of the case originally belonged to Mr. Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh and not to plaintiff, and were never transferred to plaintiff’s ownership, plaintiff has no legal claim to those assets which have been transferred to my client following Mr. Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh’s death.”

“The defendant has a compelling argument,” the judge said, turning to Fred. “Do you have any evidence that shows Mr. Feldspar-Leigh transferred his assets to your client?”

Fred tried to think of something to say in support of his client. The original Jacob and the new Jacob had never even been conscious at the same time, nor had Jacob even put anything into his will that even mentioned the Jacob who now lived within Medimetics.

“No, your honor,” he finally replied.

“In that case, I’m throwing out this suit, on the grounds that plaintiff lacks standing as an aggrieved party to seek remedy from this court.” The judged banged the gavel. “Dismissed. Next case, #92874/6…”

Chapter word count: 1,819 (+152)
Total word count: 31,795 / 50,000 (63.59%)

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