Homunculus: Chapter 27: Meeting

“The answer is no.”

Bartholomew Jensen sat rigidly at his desk, hands folded in front of him and eyes fixed on Douglas. Jensen was Medimetics’s vice president for research and development, which meant that he was the man in charge of the Simulacrum project. He was the ultimate decision maker when it came to the project, and his body language underlined the fact that he had just rendered a decision.

“Sir,” Douglas replied, “I don’t believe you fully understand the gravity of the situation we’re in right now.”

“No,” Jensen repeated, louder this time.

“Right now,” Douglas continued anyway, “our biggest competitor has access to the backup Simulacrum. That means they can download not only all the software that runs the simulation, but also the world’s only complete digital model of a human brain. With that information, there’s nothing to stop them from starting their own rival project, but without spending the billion dollars it took us to develop it in the first place.”


“And that’s the best case scenario, believe it or not. With access to the backup system, there’s nothing stopping them from corrupting the data within it, leaving us with only the system downstairs. And in case you forgot, we also know for a fact that they’ve gotten into that one as well. If they find a way back in, or if they’ve set a timebomb in the system, that’s it. With the primary and the backup gone, that’s it. We can’t afford to let that happen.”

“I said, no. The costs of shutting down the backup site in some vain hope of containing the damage is far too costly.”

“You’re wrong, sir.” Douglas struggled to find a way he could possibly explain things more clearly. “If we lose the primary and the backup, we lose everything. There is no Simulacrum. We have to take them offline to repair the damage, or that billion dollars we spent did nothing but boost Insight’s bottom line.”

Jensen rose from his seat, not so much standing up as pushing his body up from his desk, ending with Jensen leaning forwards, as though he might at any moment leap over the desk and try to make Douglas understand his decision using his fists. The entire time, he continued staring directly at Douglas, all but ignoring Jessica as she stood next to him, having barely spoken a word since they had first burst into his office without any notice.

“It is not my job,” Jensen began, “to waste time and money of a failure in your judgment that gave them access to the backup system in the first place!”

“It was a hostage situation!” Douglas shouted back.

“You neglected your responsibilities and let your personal feelings interfere with your decision making!”

“When a person’s life is in immediate danger, there is no decision to make!”

“That is enough!” Jensen yelled, slamming his fists on his desk. He continued, speaking slowly and deliberately, “You will fix the problem you caused, without impacting the continued operation of the Melchior system. That is final. Anything else you say, I will consider to be your resignation effective immediately. Good day.”

Douglas looked towards Jessica for some kind of help, but all she did was to slightly shake her head and look nervously towards the door. It’s not worth it, she seemed to be saying. Douglas shot another look at Jensen, then turned on his heels and marched out of his office, with Jessica following a few moments later.

“Thanks for the support back there,” he said once they were both in the hallway.

“I told you it wasn’t going to do anything but get you fired,” she replied.

“But you know I’m right. He’s setting the project up for failure.”

“I know,” Jessica said quietly. “But you’ll just have to do the best you can with the resources you have. That’s how it always is in the real world.”

“That’s what you said to justify cutting corners when we were finalizing the system architecture, which is what ultimately got us into this situation to begin with.” Douglas sighed and began walking down the hall.

“So what are you going to do now?” Jessica called from behind him.

Douglas turned. “Make a heroic but ultimately futile effort to limit the damage subject to the idiotic constraints I’ve been given, until I hit my eight hours for the day and head home. If the company refuses to give security the priority it deserves, then I might as well follow along.”

Douglas took the stairs back down the first floor and walked to the Simulacrum development lab. He rang the door buzzer until one of the Daves inside let him in.

“I need you to help me do something impossible,” he said as he stepped inside.

Other Dave set down the donut he had been lifting towards his mouth. “Impossible, eh? Well, I haven’t had breakfast yet, but I suppose I can squeeze in a seventh impossible thing in first. What did you have in mind?”

“The backup system,” Douglas replied. “We need to lock it down.”

“From here?” New Dave asked.

“Apparently so,” Douglas said. “At least to figure out what the actual state of the remote access interface is.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to call them up and have them check it from there end?”

“Easier, yes. Correct, no. Let’s assume the remote interface has been compromised. If that’s the case, none of the admin tools being run locally can be trusted, depending on what rootkits might’ve been installed to hide what’s going on. But we might be able to test what’s actually being exposed if we go in remotely like they have to.”

“What’s all this about, anyway?”

Douglas gave them the highlights of the previous evening’s events. He discretely ended the story at the point where he and Liz had left the police station. The Daves didn’t have a need to know that they had opted to get a hotel room for a few days in case her attacker tried to find them. Especially since they’d no doubt then notice how, now that the adrenaline from the confrontation with Jensen was wearing off, how he kept having to stifle yawns, and immediately jump to the most scandalous possible conclusion, and Douglas wasn’t in the mood for any of that.

“Huh,” New Dave said once Douglas had finished.

“What?” Douglas asked.

“It’s just that I had heard rumors that, you know, you were into dudes or something. You know,” New Dave continued after seeing Douglas’s confused look, “on account of that rainbow thing I’ve heard you have on display in your office or something.”

“The Rainbow Series has nothing to do with… forget it.” Yet another piece of evidence that suggested he and Jessica were the only people in the building who knew anything about information security.

“That’s an awful lot of trouble for someone to go through to get your password,” Other Dave observed. “That’s why I just always set my password on everything to ‘swordfish’. Oh come on, I’m just messing with you,” he continued after Douglas glared at him. “That’d be way too obvious. I use ‘password’.”

“Can we get back to the matter at hand, please?” Douglas asked. “First things first, I’m going to try to log in to the remote system myself, which will probably just confirm that they’ve changed my password to something else to lock me out.” He sat down at one of the corporate intranet terminals and began typing.

“I’m going to run a port scan against those machines to see if there’s any suspicious ports listening,” New Dave added, wheeling himself over to one of the other terminals.

“I’m going to eat this donut,” said Other Dave, returning to his late breakfast.

“What’s going on out there?” asked a voice.

“Who’s that?” asked Douglas.

“Oh,” Other Dave answered, swallowing a mouthful of donut, “I guess the two of you have never been introduced.” Other Dave waved towards the bank of computers on the wall opposite the door. “Douglas, meet Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh, our current guest in Balthasar. Jacob, the person whose voice you don’t recognize is Douglas Decker, security guy.”

“Information Systems Security Officer for the Simulacrum project,” Douglas corrected.

“Pleased to meet you, Douglas,” said Jacob’s voice over the speakers. Oh! I don’t suppose you know anything about why I haven’t been able to get out to the Internet for the past couple days, do you?”

“Um, you could say that,” Douglas replied. He leaned on the Backspace key and restarted tracing out the password hidden on his crib sheet.

“Is that what you’re here to work on?”

“In a way.” Douglas still didn’t want to disclose any more information about the intrusion into the primary system than he needed to. “Well, they’ve definitely changed my password. Can one of you try?”

“Don’t look at me,” said Other Dave, “they don’t let me play with the cool toys.”

“I should have an account on there,” New Dave said. “I’ll try once this scan finishes up.”

“Well,” Jacob said, “it sounds like you’re busy out there. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No,” Douglas answered flatly.

“Hmm. Well, if security’s involved, I suppose I’ll leave you to it. Let me know what you find out.”

“Scan’s done,” New Dave declared.

“And?” Douglas asked.

“Nothing unusual. Just port 22 open, everything else filtered, just like it should be. Now I’ll just try logging in.”

As he waited, Douglas turned to Other Dave. “Does that… Jacob… talk to the two of you like that often?”

“Oh yeah, all the time,” Other Dave replied. “He hasn’t been particularly talkative lately, but other than that, the two of us are pretty much the only people he’s ever able to talk to. Which reminds me, when all this mess is taken care of and his Internet’s back up, it’d be good to get him VoIP or something so he can at least make phone calls.”

“I’ll make a note of that,” Douglas said vaguely.

“I’m in,” New Dave said. “I guess yours is the only account they messed with on here.”

“What can you see? I’m not actually that familiar with the system.”

“But you have an account,” Other Dave said.

“I also have the recovery plan that gives me instructions on what I’m supposed to do with it. You guys are the experts here, not me.”

“Huh,” New Dave said. “This is weird.”

“Is the system messed up?” Other Dave asked.

“No. As far as I can tell, the backup system’s running about the same as the primary here is.”

“That’s weird?” Douglas asked.


“How so?”

“Well, it’s supposed to be a warm backup, right?”

“Right,” Douglas nodded. The necessary equipment was installed at the other facility and tested periodically, but wouldn’t actually be pressed into operation unless something happened to the primary. The only thing normally happening there would be receiving and processing the backup snapshots that would be sent there every day.

“Well,” New Dave explained, “according to this, it’s been running hot almost since Day 1.”

Chapter word count: 1,852 (+185)
Total word count: 47,574 / 50,000 (95.148%)

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