Homunculus: Chapter 6: Sleep

“Ugh,” Jacob sighed as he leaned back into the chair. He rubbed his forehead as he looked at the computer screen out of the corner of his eye. “Words cannot describe how tedious that was.”

“Oh come on,” New Dave said, his voice appearing to come from the speaker, “it wasn’t that bad.”

“The questions were insipid. ‘What does it feel like being the first person uploaded into a computer?’ How am I supposed to answer that? ‘Better than spending the rest of my life in a hospital bed?’ ‘Pretty much the same as being the seven billionth person not uploaded into a computer?’”

There were plenty of differences, to be sure. The most obvious, of course, was that his new virtual body was completely healthy and disease-free, and would presumably stay that way in the perfectly germ-free virtual environment. However, most of the other differences were in the little things and weren’t terribly interesting to talk about. Like how most of his senses didn’t work quite as well as he was used to. Or rather, they seemed to work just fine, but the environment he was in didn’t quite match with expectations. Sound was pretty normal, especially when it was relayed in from the outside world. Audio engineers had pretty solid models of how to represent sound digitally and how the human ear was supposed to perceive them, thanks to people wanting to download music. Vision was pretty solid too, but he was still having trouble getting used to all the tiny little corners on everything. Anything that wasn’t trying to be a flat surface was clearly made up of millions of tiny little polygons, especially if he put his face right up to it.

Then there was touch. People had tried to digitally reproduce tactile sensations before, but it never got much more sophisticated than shaking game controllers. There were probably braille output devices out there too, Jacob assumed, but he had never encountered any personally. But beyond that? Jacob drummed his fingers on the perfectly smooth desk surface, and then on the allegedly padded arm of the desk chair. Other than the arm having a little give to it, they felt largely the same. That and the polygon thing together made falling asleep downright weird; it felt like the bedsheets were some kind of lightweight chain mail.

And taste? It was obvious no one had ever tried to figure out how to digitally reproduce taste. Jacob figured that was because he was the only one who would realistically be interested in something like that. It’s not like there were any taste-based peripherals on the market. The very idea was disgusting — sticking some USB device in your mouth for extended periods. Jacob used to find it unpleasant to use someone else’s keyboard or mouse, especially when the keys and buttons proved to be a little too sticky. Using someone else’s taste thingy? No thank you. At least people tended to wash their hands several times a day. People brushed their teeth at most what, twice a day?

Granted, Jacob appreciated the effort he assumed the Daves and everyone else had put into in trying to add some taste to the virtual food he needed to eat so his virtual stomach would stop telling his very real brain that it was hungry. The result, however, left a lot to be desired. The only way Jacob could think of to describe was that it was as though all the food he was given had been run through a Fourier transform first. If he thought about it hard enough while he was eating something, he could almost figure out what all the different little pseudoflavors were trying to be, and in some abstract statistical sense they seemed to be in roughly the right proportions to one another.

Smell wasn’t any better, but Jacob wasn’t terribly eager for that to be improved. He had always known that being unable to smell properly deadened how things tasted, and here that seemed to be somewhat of a benefit. Nor was Jacob eager to have a more genuine olfactory perception of his virtual bowel movements.

Jacob wondered if there had been one unlucky programmer whose job it had been, full-time, to implement virtual bowel movements. He quickly decided he didn’t really want to know the answer.

“It’s probably not going to get any better,” New Dave said.

“What isn’t?” Jacob asked, having lost track of the conversation.

“The interviews.”

“There’s more?”

“Are you kidding? I bet once the press releases go out, every media outlet in the country is going to want their own interview with you.”

“Oh joy,” Jacob deadpanned. “Not only do I get to answer stupid questions, I’ll get to answer the same stupid questions over and over again.”

“It’s not like you have a whole lot of better things to do in there.”

“About that. What am I supposed to be doing in here anyway? It’s not I can go anywhere or anything.”

“There’s the Internet. Rumor has it PR wants you to blog or Facebook or Twitter your experiences. Keep people interested in the project.”

“Oh yes. People might get bored with the fact that you’ve digitally reconstructed me inside a computer unless they know what I eat for lunch every day. ‘Got simulated gas from a bean burrito that never really existed. About to toot ones and zeroes. #simujacob’”

“Heh. Then I’ll have to hear Other Dave talk about the three dozen memes 4chan came up with about your digital farts.”

“‘I can haz virtchewal cheezburger?’”

“‘No they be takin mah simulated bukkit!’”

Jacob shuddered. “Please tell me there’s some kind of firewall between me and the Internet.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe. I’m not sure you can even get out to the Internet yet on that computer.”

Jacob looked at the computer. Of course, it, like everything else around him, wasn’t really, well, real. In this computer-generated virtual reality, there was a virtual computer. But in another sense, it was the only real thing here, since it was his only connection to the universe outside the simulation. Jacob had visions of M. C. Escher drawing a diagram of how that worked. Actually, M. C. Escher would probably draw a diagram of M. C. Escher drawing the diagram of M. C. Escher drawing… Jacob thought he better change the subject before he got caught in some kind of infinite recursive loop. Inside a computer that might actually be possible.

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could get some company in here?” Jacob asked. “I mean, talking with you via whatever you call this is nice and all, but other than that I am kind of alone in here.”

There was a pause. “Actually,” New Dave said, his voice dragged out in thought, “there might be something we can do about that. I’ll need to run some numbers first.”

That night, Jacob lay in his bed, trying to get comfortable under his polygon chain mail blanket. He had tried not using it, but the night air was too cool for him, and there didn’t seem to be a thermostat in his virtual environment — he’d have to remember to bring that up with the Daves the next day. Finally, however, sleep came to him, and he dreamed of finding a door that led to a virtual outdoors outside his virtual home.

Meanwhile, in the server room, the countless racks of computers powering the Simulacrum worked as tirelessly as they did when he was awake, for there were still millions of neuron-to-neuron interactions to simulate one timeslice at a time. As they did so, a steady stream of data flowed over bundles of fiber-optic cable to the other side of the room, where entirely different clusters of computers studied the activity taking place in Jacob’s simulated brain, algorithmically looking for a way to tease out correlations between the activity in his brain and his behavior in the simulation. Tease out the imagined world of his dream inside the virtual world of the Simulacrum would have to wait for another day; right now they struggled to figure out whether he was going to roll onto his left side or right side next.

In an instant, plus or minus the time variance between the individual computers, the simulation paused. Jacob didn’t notice, nor could he notice, as the complete state of himself and everything around him was frozen. The simulation itself was now asleep. The computers, however, continued running, each now flushing gigabytes of data out of memory and onto disk. Only with the virtual world frozen in place would the disks have the time to save and checkpoint what, to Jacob, was the entire universe. As each one finished, it flashed a message across the miles of network cable running every which way through the room, as each computer virtually queued up in line.

One by one, each computer began to spew its saved piece of the simulation — each piece large enough to overwhelm most ordinary computers but still a tiny fraction of the overall whole — across the network to the gateway to the outside world. There, the deluge of bits would be systematically chopped into chunks, mutilated, replaced, shoved around, and mixed together a dozen times before being shot at the speed of light halfway across the country, where they would then be run through precisely the opposite wringer and stored safely away in case disaster struck.

The entire process of streaming a copy of Jacob and his entire virtual world to the other facility would take the better part of a day, even using the entire set of dedicated high-speed lines Medimetics leased at a premium. But while each computer was waiting for its turn, now that it had saved a copy of its piece of the world to disk, it could go back to its primary function of giving life to Jacob. Once they were all ready, they once again continued advancing the world in lock step.

Jacob rolled onto his left side and continued dreaming.

Chapter word count: 1,681 (+14)
Total word count: 10,543 / 50,000 (21.086%)