Homunculus: Chapter 29: Escape

“If you’re going to have a duplicate system with that kind of price tag, you’d be foolish to leave it sitting idle,” Maxwell explained. New Dave had called him down the development lab after discovering that the backup system wasn’t being utilized as a backup system at all. “Sure, in the event of a shutdown here we can use it as intended, but it’s been decided that in the meantime we put it to good use.”

“And what use is that, exactly?” asked New Dave. “From these logs it looks like you’re restarting the system a few times an hour.”

“The Melchior system is running a series of short-duration simulation experiments to collect the sort of data we simply can’t get from here.”

“Such as?”

“Do you have any idea how complex the human brain is? It’s the single most complicated part of the body. It’s futile to try to understand it simply by sitting back and watching it work, which is all we’re really doing here. Sure, there are computers analyzing the data coming out of Balthasar, but needle-in-a-haystack is putting it mildly. No, to understand something this complex you need to be able to break it down into its constituent components and get a handle on how those pieces work before you can even hope to understand how they all fit together. That’s what Melchior is doing: figuring out what all the pieces do, so we can better analyze how the overall system works.”

“I didn’t sign up for being experimented on,” Jacob’s voice said over the speakers.

“Yes, actually, you did,” replied Maxwell. “It was all in the consent forms you signed some six months or so ago.”

“No, I didn’t,” Jacob countered smugly.

“I have copies of the paperwork on file if I need to refresh your memory.”

“Ah, but you’re forgetting that the courts have decided that I am legally a separate entity than my old self. If the courts are going to screw me out of my money with that logic, I can turn that around and get you to stop running experiments on a nonconsenting human subject.”

“You can’t be serious; that little farce of a lawsuit would hardly hold up as legal precedent.”

“I know a lawyer who’s willing to argue otherwise.”

“I’ve had enough of this,” Maxwell declared, standing up. “The fact is, Melchior is critical to the success of this project, so you’re not going to do anything to shut it down. Good day, gentlemen.” Maxwell let himself out of the lab.

“What was all that about?” asked Other Dave once the door had shut behind Maxwell.

“I may not be an expert in biology,” began Jacob, “but I do know a thing or two. Enough to read between the lines of what Dr. Newhausen was saying, at least. They’re running a bunch of copies of me over there, experimenting with them. They’re probably changing something in each one and seeing what happens.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure. Say you have an organism, like a fruit fly, and you want to see what a particular gene does. What do you do? You take a bunch of fruit flies, disable the gene, and see what happens to the flies without it. Except that here, instead of genes, it’s parts of the brain, and instead of fruit flies, it’s me.”

Neither Douglas nor neither of the Daves said anything.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the thought of having God knows what done to me, and then being ‘deleted’ or ‘reset’ or whatever euphemism they want to use over there when they’re done. Even if never actually happens to me me, it’s happening to copies of me, which as far as I’m concerned is the same thing.”

Douglas considered what Jacob had said. The notion struck him for the first time that as much time as he spent worrying about the Simulacrum, he had never truly given any thought to what was happening inside it. But now that he was in an actual conversation with it — no, with Jacob — a distressing realization hit him.

“Jacob,” Douglas said, “I apologize.”

“None of you three have anything to apologize for,” Jacob replied. “New Dave and Other Dave, you’ve done nothing but tried to help me ever since I came here. And Douglas, well, I assume you’ve been doing likewise behind the scenes. None of you knew what was really going on, so I can’t blame you for what Dr. Newhausen is doing.”

“No,” Douglas said, shaking his head even though he didn’t think Jacob had any way to see it, “that’s not what I meant. All this time, I’ve been thinking of the Simulacrum as an information system. One that’s worth billions of dollars and is probably critical to the success of the company, but at the end of the day just another computer. I was wrong. I never truly realized it was a safety-of-life system, one that you, Jacob, are dependent on. I would have done things differently had I from the beginning realized you were a person depending on me for your continued existence. For that, I apologize.”

“Well, given that you’re one of the few people who actually thinks of me as a person, I can hardly be angry with you.”

Douglas decided it would be best to leave it at that. This realization threw the events of the previous night into an entirely new context. He hadn’t saved Liz from a hostage situation. In reality it was a prisoner swap, trading Liz for Jacob. That called into question the rightness of his decision; given that he had an obligation to protect Jacob, had he still done the right thing, or had he done the selfish thing. Could he say that Liz was worth more than Jacob, or vice versa? His heart sank at the thought of Liz thinking of him as a hero for doing something morally wrong.

“So where does that leave us now?” New Dave asked. Douglas was silently thankful for something to distract him from that line of thought, if only for the time being.

“I’m not going to let this continue,” Jacob said resolutely.

“How, exactly?” Other Dave asked. “It’s not as though Max is going to shut down the experiments just because you asked.”

“And you can’t exactly leave, short of physically moving all the servers to some other location,” added New Dave. “And if you’re expecting to logically move yourself somewhere, that’s really just copying yourself across the network followed by deleting the original copy.”

“That’s assuming you even have anywhere to go,” said Douglas. “I’m sure Insight would love to have you, but given what they’ve done to get access to you already, I seriously doubt they’d treat you any better than Medimetics has so far. But other than them, who else is going to spend the kind of resources it takes to build and run their own Simulacrum?”

“Who’s to say Insight doesn’t have a copy already?” asked Other Dave.

“It’s a funny thing about the remote backup system,” replied New Dave. “The data stream for the nightly backups nearly saturates the available bandwidth, so there simply isn’t room in the pipes for there to be both a massive upload to the backup system and a massive download from it. We only expected to do a download if the primary system had a catastrophic failure, in which case the uploads would cease.”

Douglas chuckled. “The control we put in place to prevent surreptitious downloads from the backup system is there being too much data to download.”

“You could go public with what’s happening,” suggested Other Dave. “Hope you can generate some public outcry that’ll compel them to stop the experiments.”

“There’s no way legal would let him publish that,” said New Dave.

“I know a few people who would be willing to publish it for me,” said Jacob.

“Would the company cave to public pressure, though?” asked New Dave.

“Maybe,” said Douglas. “They’ve been interested in cultivating the public face of the Simulacrum program; they wouldn’t want to see it discredited. If Max is right, the real information is going to come from the experiments, not you, so if the experiments get taken down, they might do the same here. Especially if you’re going to be going against the company line, that’ll move you from the ‘asset’ column to the ‘liability’ column real quick.”

“And then they could just start the experiments up again a few months later, on the down low,” added Other Dave. “They’ve been keeping them secret so far, right? And they’re hardly going to throw away all the hardware for it.”

“As long as they still have a copy of me,” reflected Jacob, “they could always go back to what they’re doing now. I can’t go anywhere, and I can’t stay here.”

The silence hung in the air. Douglas assumed the Daves were reading the same thing into Jacob’s last statement that he was.

“All my life,” Jacob continued, “I’ve survived by finding the right time to run away. I got out of the markets before they crashed. Then I got out of my body before it croaked. But now there’s nowhere left for me to run away to, not without having the same set of problems. And as long as I’m dependent on someone to run the Simulacrum for me, I’ll never be able to truly escape from this. I’m not sure if this is running away again or owning up for having cheated death.”

“Are you sure about this?” Douglas warned.

“Can you give me any alternative? It’s that or the status quo, and I refuse to continue living as an experimental test subject.”

“Nothing’s coming to mind,” said Douglas.

“No,” said New Dave.

“Nope,” added Other Dave.

“All I need you to do, then,” concluded Jacob, “is make sure that any other copies of me get destroyed or rendered unusable. I can take care of the rest myself. I don’t want this to be on anyone’s hands but my own.”

Chapter word count: 1,680 (+13)
Total word count: 51,066 / 50,000 (102.132%)

5 Responses

  1. Woo! Congratulations on being 102.132% done!
    I liked the Douglas existential epiphany. Good stuff.

  2. Thanks! It’s all downhill from here. (I know, because it’s already in the queue to be posted Monday evening.)

  3. Well done, Sir.
    Why tomorrow evening though? Why not a midnight post for those of us who might be up at midnight? Building suspense? Making it last as long as possible?

  4. Since before I finally established a buffer last Sunday, I was posting chapters as I finished them, which was around 8 pm. I figured that was as good a time as any to schedule queued posts.

  5. Ok, that’s legit. I guess I can wait.
    I’m quite excited for you over this one.

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