Vol. 1 Appendix: Research
"We can start now," my assistant told me in front of my computer after she limbered up her fingers.
"All right," I answered her with a small nod and I took a deep breath to collect my thoughts. It was the 11th of October, and I was having Judy over at my place for our customary weekly research discussion. My dear assistant was the better typist, so during these times she always ousted me out from my throne in front of the keyboard to speed things up. It still annoyed me that she acted like she owned the place, but then again, she was really helpful. The only thing I never allowed her was to take my beloved 'I <3 Coffee' tea mug, but then she proceeded to bring her own 'I <3 My Boss' mug instead. Subtle as always.
Anyways, once I felt suitably collected, I spoke up with a contemplative voice.
"All right, let's start with article #4."
"Your sleeping habits?"
"Yeah, among other things," I told her while she scrolled through my research folder and opened up a text file. Once she did so, I began, "First and foremost, I believe we can safely conclude that I do not require any sleep. It's been more than a month at this point."
"Still no negative effects?"
"None at all."
"Noted," she told me with a few keystrokes, then she glanced up at me while taking a quick sip from the aforementioned mug. "I suppose your experiment didn't show any results either"
"Nah," I shook my head as I began slowly pacing up and down in the room. "I tried over-exerting myself before I went to bed, but I only get tired, not sleepy. I tried some light sedatives as well, but the result was the same."
"I see," Judy nodded and then returned to the keyboard. "Have you done any other tests since the last time we updated this article?"
"Let me see," I pondered for a moment. "Ah, right. Remember that marathon we had to run during PE on Thursday?"
"The one Joshua was complaining about all day Friday?"
"One and the same," I told her with a smirk. "I also had sore muscles yesterday, but by this morning it was gone. So, I got curious if I had some kind of a healing factor." Saying so, I showed her the band-aid on my left ring finger. "I made a small cut on my finger this morning, but it doesn't seem to heal super fast or anything."
My assistant gave me a flat look.
"You didn't let me do it, but then you cut yourself?"
"It was for science," I protested.
"I wanted to do it for science too," She told me with a face that was still deadpan, but due to my extensive experience, I could tell that she was definitely pouting.
"Look, I just did a tiny little cut to test a hypothesis based on a strong inference. You wanted to stab your finger because of a joke."
"It could be true though," She said with the same expression, and for a moment I couldn't decide whether she was serious or not.
"What could be? That you are a robot?" I asked with all the incredulity I could manage.
"Not impossible," She answered with an earnest nod. "We never did a CT scan."
"Give me a break," I groaned while massaging my temple. "I told you, we can't just walk into a hospital and demand to get a CT scan done!"
"Then we cannot exclude the possibility," She stressed, then after a second of pause, she added, "We have dragon people and succubi already. It is not out of the question."
I gave her a long, hard look, then I let out a tired sigh and decided to breach a subject that has been bothering me for a while.
"Okay, I bite. Why are you so focused on the whole robot thing?"
"Yes you are," I told her with a firm voice, then I breathed in and softened my tone a bit. "I have a guess, but I would like to hear it from your mouth, just in case I'm overthinking it."
Judy looked me in the eye for a few long seconds before she abruptly averted her gaze and finally answered.
"Chief, I will be honest with you," She paused, during which I didn't hold my breath or anything, then she said, "I am normal."
The answer took me so aback that I could only nod in response.
"Yes, you are. So?"
My assistant completely turned the swivel chair around to face me before she answered.
"Chief, everyone in our group has something special about them. Powers, status, tropes. I'm the only one who is normal."
"Don't tell me you feel inferior," I spoke with a frown, and to my sincerest relief, she shook her head.
"No, but… I do feel a little insecure. If I am not important, then I am—"
"Hold it right there!" I told her with a raised hand. "Who told you that you aren't important? You are! Also, it is perfectly fine to be normal. Normal is underrated."
"Well…" I wracked my brain for a few moments to come up with something, but as usual, my mouth was ahead of me as I reflexively told her, "If you weren't normal, I would have never asked you to become my assistant on the first week, and if I never did that, we wouldn't be here right now. So you see Dormouse, without you being normal, I would have completely missed my one and only assistant in this weird, weird little world of ours. In other words, you being normal is the best thing ever happened to me."
After I finished, we sat in silence while we looked each other in the eye. Speaking of which, my assistant's gaze seemed to be somewhat passionate.
"So?" She finally asked with an expectant voice.
"So what?" I asked back innocently.
Judy's glance immediately froze over.
"This is the moment you are supposed to say something significant," She told me with an expectant voice.
"I have absolutely no idea what you could mean," I told her while averting my eyes and playing the fool.
At last, she sharply exhaled through her nose and then the swivel chair turned around with a soft squeak to let her face the monitor. She opened up a browser window in front of my eyes and began typing something.
"What are you doing?"
"Beep-boop," She answered with a deadpan voice. "You never realized I was a robot, so you never updated my antivirus software. I just got hacked by Russian hackers and now I will have to send all your personal data over to them."
"… That's not a funny joke."
"Beep-beep. I cannot hear you. Judy-bot's audio-receptors have been shut down in response to the dangerous levels of unable-to-read-the-mood radiation in the room."
"I told you that… Hey, why are you actually writing in my social security number in the— Why do you even know that?! Hey, stop!"
"You are lucky I know I'm still ahead."
It was with this mysterious sentence that my assistant finally stopped trying to actually mail my personal data and all my passwords to some random Russian site. After some further soothing, which may or may not have included a promise to take her out for dinner to a restaurant one of these days, Judy finally stopped pouting and we returned to the research notes.
"So, where were we?" I asked, in no way weary or annoyed by this intermezzo.
"We were discussing your healing factor," Judy told me without looking over from the screen. "What was the conclusion on that?"
"Actually…" While saying so, I peeled off the band-aid from my finger and took a closer look. "Well, the wound doesn't hurt, but it's still there. Maybe it's a little smaller?"
"Do you have any before-after images?"
"Um…" I paused as the obviousness of the question hit me. "I should've made some, shouldn't I?"
"I gather you didn't." Judy let out a disappointed sigh while still refusing to look at me and said, "Don't forget it next time."
"I didn't plan on a next time, but we'll see. If I get wounded in the future, I will make sure to document it with pictures."
"Good," My assistant stated, somehow managing to write two whole sentences while saying a single word, then she finally looked at me and asked, "Anything else?"
I contemplated for a long moment before I nodded.
"Yeah, I'd like to add to the hypothesis regarding my insomnia. What does it say now?"
"The last hypothesis was that it's either a result of you being a bug—"
"A glitch in the system," I corrected her, but she only shrugged.
"Bug is shorter. Either that, or because you broke something when you hit your head on the roof on the first day."
"Right. I want to throw in the possibility of supernatural influence."
"Maybe I am also supernatural?"
Judy gave me a look that said I just said something stupid.
"Chief, that's blindingly obvious at this point."
"That's not what I meant," I dismissed her. "What I am getting at is that, while we went through my abilities, and they don't match any of the supernatural beings we know, that doesn't mean I cannot be something else equally supernatural. For example, I might be a vampire."
"Vampires are an Abyssal subrace."
I blinked hard at her words and could only utter and uncertain "Really?"
"Yes. It's in report 01-09-03."
"Huh. I thought I read all your reports on the Dracis Library, but I might have skipped that one, as I don't remember any mention of undead blood-suckers."
"They aren't. They are some kind of shadow creatures that possess people's bodies. They serve only the Lords, like the Faun, and they seem to specialize in assassinations."
"Then why are they called vampires?"
"They are hurt by sunlight."
I could only muster a grimace at her reply.
"Really? That's all it takes?"
Judy shrugged her shoulders with an unenthusiastic 'I guess so,' and I followed her example, accompanied by a sigh.
"That disappointment aside, we cannot exclude the chance that my insomnia is the natural result of some supernatural heritage. So, how can we do that?"
We both fell silent for a few seconds; thinking.
"Why don't you ask an expert?" Judy inquired.
"Who do you have in mind?"
"Eleanor's butler, the Hub, Amelia. In that order."
"Scratch Sebastian off that list. The guys on the Hub are probably not going to be a lot of help, most of them are operating on a need-to-know basis and not very knowledgeable of the other supernaturals. They could barely tell me anything about Fauns either."
"So that leaves Amelia."
"Right." I paused for a moment, but then shook my head and said, "She has been really busy lately, but I will try. I really wish she would just introduce us to this student council already, maybe they could give us some answers."
"Still on the 'to do' list," Judy said, accompanied by the noise of her typing. "What else do we have for today?"
"Let's go over some older files," I told her after a moment of thinking.
"#3 and… maybe #17? I think?" Seeing the questioning look in her eyes, I could only roll mine. "Judy, you know I don't have your memory. You can't expect me to remember every article." She didn't say a thing in response, instead she just brought up the first file. "Yeah, that's it."
Topic: Placeholder development
Observations: Placeholders are generic people with rigid, seemingly pre-programmed behavioral patterns. This rigidity seems to be imperceptible for others, likely as a form of inattentional blindness, or even perception filtering. Questions and activities not within the bounds of said patterns cause momentary lock-ups. Once they exit this state, their personality or background may change or develop. The accuracy of their bodily functions and needs seem to correlate with their development as well, with less developed individuals only acting like they eat or use the toilet (see article #5 for further details).
Hypothesis: Placeholders possess rudimentary agency (AI?), but upon focus, the simulation provides them with extra resources to deal with it in order to uphold the appearance of reality, both in terms of the complexity of their personality and the realism of their actions.
Experiments: We devised a series of five questions of increasing complexity to test the hypothesis. The questions are:
- What's your name?
- How is the weather?
- Do you have any siblings?
- What is the name of your mother?
- How were your grades last year, and have you improved?
First, as a control group, we asked these questions from Joshua and his entourage. They could answer all five questions without thinking.
Afterwards, we proceeded to ask ten random placeholder students each, noting the names and timing the lockups. The results are as follows:
Out of the twenty students, all of them could answer question #1 and #2 without a lockup. Out of the remaining questions, exactly half could answer #3 without a lockup. This group, on later analysis, turned out to be all from our class. Question #4 caused lockups ranging from ten to twenty seconds on every subject, while #5 caused lockups lasting for up to a minute.
On the next day, we asked the same questions from the same individuals, at which point they could answer every question without lockup, while at the same time we also questioned a control group of ten new placeholders, who showed similar results as the first group on the previous day.
Conclusion: The hypothesis is most likely correct. Whether the simulation actually generates relatives and backstories for placeholders upon scrutiny requires further testing.
I quickly read through the notes on the screen and nodded.
"Right, I wanted to expand on this in regards to the categories we talked about a few days ago."
"You mean the one about the main characters and side characters," She stated, earning an approving nod.
"Yes," I said as I once again began pacing up and down. "I believe we can expand our categorization to four groups: Placeholders, Unique Placeholders, Side Characters, and Main Characters. The first is the same as before. Unique Placeholders are like the nurse, or Mrs. Applebottom, or even the goldfish poop gang; named people who fulfill specific roles but they are still showing rigid behavior and are kinda dumb when faced with situations outside their comfort zone."
"Am I a Unique Placeholder?" Judy asked, prompting me to stop and give her a weird look.
"No way, Dormouse. You are both the smartest and the most random person I know. You are pretty much the anti-Unique Placeholder."
My assistant gave me a meaningful look before she returned to the keyboard and said, "So I presume you want to create a new category out of the less developed Side Characters and the more developed Placeholders."
"Exactly," I told her with a small nod. "It's all because of the people we asked becoming less rigid over time. If I am correct, with enough attention, any placeholder could be developed into a Unique one."
"Or into an anti-Unique Placeholder?"
I paused for a second and then tentatively nodded as I said, "Well, sure, though I doubt I will be paying any of them more attention than I did to you."
"That's reassuring," She told me in a tone that didn't seem reassured at all, but I was already used to it.
"Anyways, I want to reserve the Side Character category to people with more distinct personalities and agency, like Sebastian or Melinda."
"Should we go through the list?"
"Later. First I want to discuss something else the article reminded me of: do you remember my ninja maid theory?"
"That's not a theory. It's not even a hypothesis," She stated with a tone even more deadpan than usual, but I dismissed her skepticism with well-practiced ease.
"Doesn't matter. The important part is that I did some testing on the fridge, and guess what?" I looked at her expectantly, but she didn't seem nearly as interested as I was, so in the end I just spilled the beans and said, "If you actually watch it, it doesn't restock overnight!"
My dear assistant's expression went through a number of subtle changes I was fairly confident only I could discern. First it was confusion, then contemplation, and finally… pity?
"Chief… Don't tell me you spent the entire night staring at your fridge."
"What? No, of course not," I protested in a no way overly defensive manner. "I mean, first I wanted to, but I got bored, so I just set up my phone on the counter and let it record over the night, and guess what?" She still didn't seem too enthusiastic, but I tried all the same. "In the morning, I found the fridge door still open but the milk and everything else were still restocked."
"… Didn't you just tell me it didn't do that?"
"Yes, and here comes the good part!" I told her with a grin. "You see, my phone's battery died somewhere around six in the morning. After I put it on the charger and reviewed the footage, it turns out the fridge stayed completely untouched until the battery ran out."
"And that means?"
"It means that the ninja maids are really shy," I told her with a smile, which she didn't return at all.
"Chief, if you are not taking this seriously, I'm going home."
"Oh fine, fine!" I gave up with an exaggerated slouch. "Seriously though, it confirms the idea that the simulation is doing its thing whenever it's not observed."
"I wouldn't say it confirms it," Judy told me while recording our discussion. "Our fridge is maintained by my mother, and I have never experienced these kinds of refills. I think we need more observations."
"What do you propose?"
"We should plant hidden cameras in placeholder kitchens to see if they also restock."
I gave my assistant a flat look of my own and released a disappointed sigh.
"Judy, I told you already: we are not going to break into other people's homes."
"But it's necessary."
"No, it's a crime!" I retorted.
"But it would answer so many questions! We don't even know if the placeholders eat, or sleep, or do anything once they go home, just a few hidden cameras, and—"
"Judy," I interrupted her with a slightly raised voice. "I will tell you again: we are not, under any circumstances, going to break into other people's properties, placeholders or not, and we are most definitely not going to deploy any kind of surveillance equipment. Are we clear?"
My assistant gave me a dissatisfied, borderline severe look, but in the end she glanced away and muttered, "Crystal."
"Great, I am glad we are on the same page," I told her with a chipper voice. "Also, open a new experimental file please."
"New experiment," The previously sullen girl immediately perked up. "What kind?"
"I plan on making physical contact with a random sample of placeholders and then observe them through Far Sight to find out if they eat, sleep or do other stuff once they go home."
Judy's eyes slowly narrowed into angry slits.
"How is that any different from what I proposed?"
"First, it's not illegal," I told her with a smile. "Secondly, unlike hidden cameras, it doesn't take time and money to set up. Last, but not least, I just felt like teasing you a little."
Judy's eyes narrowed even further, and then, without a word, she turned her swivel chair around and kicked me in the shin while still sitting. I could have avoided it, but instead I just smiled and received it with an obligatory 'ouch'.
"That's it Chief. Now you did it. Now I officially hate you." Saying so, she turned back around and opened up a new browser window.
"Don't tell me you are doing the whole 'Russian hacker' thing again…"
"No Chief, I am going to update our relationship on my social media accounts from 'more than friends' to 'eternal enemies'."
For a second I could only blink in confusion, then I stepped closer to take a look at the screen.
"Since when do we even have social media?"
"It's another of those freshly appeared things, like smartphones and streamlined cars," She told me in a disinterested voice, reminding me of another research topic regarding the weirdly anachronistic technology levels of this world, but then the thought was drowned out by a bigger question:
"Wait, since when do I even have an account? I only just learned this existed!"
"I made it for you," She stated matter of factly before she clicked on a drop-down menu and picked an option. "See, now we are eternal enemies."
"No, we are not," I told her emphatically, but she only shook her head and pointed at the screen.
"But it says so here, and everything on the internet is true, therefore we are eternal enemies. Sorry chief, but the data doesn't lie. Now I will have to hate you forever and ever."
It was my turn to squint my eyes at my assistant, but instead of answering I leaned over, took the mouse from her and changed our relationship back to 'more than friends' on the drop-down menu.
"There, now you don't have to hate me."
Judy audibly clicked her tongue and then crossed her arms in front of her chest.
"Tch. You still haven't 'more than friend'ed me back, so I still hate you."
"How could I do that when I just learned about social media existing two minutes ago?!"
"If you keep making excuses like that all the time, you are never going to be popular."
"I don't want to be…" In the end I let my voice trail off into a giant groan and raised my hands in surrender. "Fine, I give up! Will you stop hating me if I just let you show me around on this site?"
Judy immediately gave me a nod and gestured for me to come even closer. I let out a small sigh and obediently complied. I got my backup chair, set it down next to my unusually eager assistant, and she began with:
"For a start, let me introduce you to the interface by first denying this friend request from some unrelated blonde girl and then setting your status to 'not interested at all'…"
"Unrelated? Isn't that the prin—"
"Hush, Chief. Stating the obvious also makes me hate you."
"Is there such a thing that doesn't make you hate me?" I burst out, and she only gave me a strange look before gesturing towards herself.
"For example, I wouldn't hate it if you sat a little closer."
I theatrically rolled my eyes at her request, but eventually I still sidled closer to her. I had a feeling that one of these days I should really do something about my non-social-media relationship statuses as well, as they were obviously getting in the way of my research.
But then again, spending time like this was also okay, I thought as I proceeded to set the princess's status to 'more than a friend' as well, followed by receiving another obligatory kick to the shin from my sulking assistant.