Homunculus: Chapter 11: Roommate

“Jacob, I have good news and bad news,” Jacob heard Other Dave’s voice say.

Jacob paused his experimentation with his computer’s newfound Internet access. Back when he was in the hospital, he had quickly learned that hearing a doctor prefix something with that sentence was never a good thing. Which, technically, was pretty self-evident from the “bad news” part, but doctors were in a position to provide a particular level of bad news that other people simply couldn’t. And even though neither of the Daves had any kind of medical degree, in a sense Jacob was in the same relationship with them as he was with his doctors in the hospital. The Daves were ultimately responsible for keeping him alive.

“I don’t want any bad news,” Jacob said.

“OK,” Other Dave replied, “then I’ll just tell you the good news. As part of the code updates New Dave and I pushed out to Balthasar last night during the resync–”

“Balthasar?” Jacob asked.

“You’re sitting in it. Anyway, part of that update freed up some of the resources in the cluster.”

“OK.” If Other Dave was expecting Jacob to be impressed at the news, he wasn’t.

“That means you don’t have to be all alone in there anymore. Meet your new roommate.”

There was a flash of light and a high-pitched “fwoosh” from the corner of the room. When Jacob looked, he saw a glass terrarium sitting on a table, neither of which had been there before.

“What was that?” Jacob asked.

“I figured if I’m going to be able to be able to play God in your world,” Other Dave replied, “I might as well do it with a little style, right?”

“That’s style?”

“Hey, shut up, Q is awesome.”

“Q who?”

“Don’t get him started,” New Dave called, his voice sounding distant.

“Don’t listen to him,” Other Dave said. “He thinks Kirk is better than Picard.”

“No appreciation for the classics,” retorted New Dave.

Jacob ignored the Daves’ bickering and walked across the room to inspect its new occupant. The terrarium was decorated like a miniature kitchen, as though someone had raided some poor little girl’s dollhouse. There were two tiny dishes, one with water and one with something brown that was presumably supposed to be food. Something suddenly skittered from underneath the toy table and darted behind the fake pink fridge.

“Was that a cockroach?” Jacob asked.

“His name is Gavin,” answered Other Dave.

“You’re putting a cockroach in my home.” As soon as he said it, Jacob wondered if “home” was really the right word to use. The only alternatives he could think of at the moment sounded more awkward. Jacob supposed this really was his home now.

“Technically,” Other Dave corrected him, “we put you into his home. Gavin there was Balthasar’s original resident. He could probably teach you a thing or two about living there.”

“So, first him, then me.”

“First Gavin the cockroach, then King the dog, then Reston the monkey, now you. It’s not like we were going to test the system on you originally.”

“Be thankful for that,” New Dave said, his voice clearer now, as though he had moved closer to the microphone. “The early activation tests on Gavin didn’t end well.”

“Do I want to know more about that?” Jacob asked hesitantly.

“Probably not.”

“So why not give me the dog?”

“We only had enough free resources from the last update to add something with Gavin’s complexity,” said Other Dave. “We could give you King, but that would mean giving you a bit of a lobotomy to make room.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

“If it were up to me, I’d put Reston in there. Having a monkey for a roommate would be a comedy goldmine.”

“Monkeys aren’t domesticated,” New Dave countered. “Sure, it’s all fun and games, until Reston decides to challenge your dominance and suddenly he’s clawing your eyes out.”

“Lighten up,” said Other Dave, “I wasn’t being serious. Besides, it’s not like we couldn’t just restore you from backup if that happened.”

“Restore me…” Jacob said.

“Sort of like an extra life in a video game. Except you don’t have to run around looking for green mushrooms first. Hey, there’s an idea for 2.0.” Jacob heard a chair scoot, followed by the faint squeaking of a marker writing on a whiteboard.

“Oh, you should see the rest of his ideas for the expanded virtual environment for the next major release,” New Dave said. “Be glad it’s not his job to design any of the rooms you’re in now.”

Jacob didn’t answer. While he certainly wouldn’t mind a living space that amounted to more than a studio apartment, his attention was currently focused on the terrarium, and the cockroach that was hiding somewhere inside.

“You can take him out, if you like,” Other Dave said. “And if you accidentally step on him, we can restore him from backup too.”

“I’ll pass,” Jacob said distractedly.

“Your loss.”

Jacob thought he saw an antenna sticking out from behind the miniature oven. It looked like there was a piece of plastic and a wall of glass separating the two of them. But Jacob knew in reality, they were both somewhere inside a room full of computers. How far apart were they separated there, he wondered. Were they running on separate nodes? Or were they all tangled up with each other, relying on a few bits of software to distinguish between his brain’s and the insect’s. For a fleeting moment, Jacob wondered what would happen if the software running the simulation got the two confused.

“None of the programmers happens to be named Kafka, is there?” Jacob asked.

“Hmm?” said Other Dave.

“Never mind.”

Jacob turned his attention away from the miniature vermin and back to his computer. He did something that was sure to prove that he was still human and not a cockroach: go online and check the status of his financials. The investment portfolio was simple enough; what money he hadn’t sunk into Project Simulacrum directly was mostly tied up in Medimetics stock. Jacob checked the market value over the past month. Not surprisingly, it had quadrupled almost instantly when he was announced to the world a week ago, after which it wavered between double and triple, presumably as the day traders fought one another over the gains to be found in short-term fluctuations. But that didn’t matter too much to Jacob; he was in it for the long haul, financially and otherwise.

Relative performance was one thing; Jacob wanted a dollar figure on his current holdings, and couldn’t remember offhand how many shares he owned. His next stop was his brokerage’s website. He typed in his user name and password and clicked the button.

“Login failed. Re-enter your user name and password. Make sure your CAPS LOCK key is off.”

Jacob typed his user name again, carefully this time, entering one letter at a time has he watched the keyboard, making sure there were no typos. He tabbed over to the password box and stopped. What was his password again?

In retrospect, it had been months since he had ever had occasion to use it. How had he managed to type it in once already without realizing it? Muscle memory, he guessed. He remembered not jumbled sequence of lowercase, uppercase, numbers, and symbols, but rather the sequence of motions needed to type it on a keyboard. Trying to remember it character by character would be impossible. He fixed his eyes on the screen and tried again, but his hands wouldn’t move. He was still trying to remember his password instead of simply typing it. It was like blinking or breathing: you could do it without thinking, until you tried doing it consciously. You couldn’t start doing it automatically again until you distracted yourself with something long enough to stop thinking about it and letting instinct take over again.

Jacob looked across the room at the terrarium. There was something black stuck to the side of the miniature refrigerator, motionless. At least a cockroach wouldn’t keep him up all night barking.

Now. Jacob turned back to his computer and typed in his password before he could start thinking about it again. He clicked the button. Still failure. He tried it all over again a third time, first making sure his hands were positioned properly on the home row. Still no luck. He sighed.

At his old home — Jacob briefly realized he was now referring to it as that — he kept a list of his passwords written down, hidden away for this sort of occasion. That didn’t exactly help him now. Nor was he going to ask someone to go in there, find his password list, bring it back, and read it off to him here. That left one recourse.

He clicked the “Forgot your password?” link next to the login prompt.

The login page was replaced with a question: “Where were you married?” He couldn’t remember why he had chosen that as his secret question, but at least he could remember the answer easily enough, even though the event now seemed like it took place a lifetime ago. In a sense, it had. He typed in “Crestwood Hills Chapel” and hit Enter.

A new page greeted him: “Your password has been reset and sent to your e-mail account sus4iver@(domain).com. (For security reasons, your complete e-mail address is not displayed.)”

Jacob froze. That did not look like any of his e-mail accounts. It almost looked like….

The realization hit him. He couldn’t think of any other explanation. He tried logging in to one of his bank accounts. Same user name, same password. Failure. He tried that site’s password reset function. Another message saying the new password has been sent to sus4iver. He could try checking his other bank accounts too, but by this point Jacob could guess he’d find the same thing there as well.

Jacob swore.

“Something wrong?” Other Dave called.

“That’s Susan’s. It has to be.”

“Who?”

“My wife.”


Chapter word count: 1,671 (+4)
Total word count: 19,231 / 50,000 (38.462%)

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