The Sentient Being drank virtuathol, slamming the cup onto the bar and smacking its lips. The bartender, a blocky construct that was clearly just stock pixel-art from the early 2020s, turned haltingly to face it and another glass appeared while the original disappeared. It was unsurprised; that was the function of this construct, anyway, and its code was simple.
All around that small strip of bar and single barstool was pure nothingness. It was neither white nor black, dark nor light. There simply was nothing and the lack of awareness of nothingness. Noticing the nothing was like a fish, noticing water. No one wanted to see that happen and the circumstances where it might were brutal.
On that lone barstool, the single living thing sat. It had chosen a more alien form this time, diverging from its usual human shape by elongating the limbs wildly as well as its head. If a human were around it would likely appear to be a distant evolutionary cousin (and indeed, if its calculations were correct this is what the nearest stellar cousins would look like, if the humans ever actually found them). Otherwise, it looked like an average human with what was called Filipino ancestry. It had been a few hundred years since cultural and area-based delineations of ancestry mattered to human beings, but that meant nothing to a being with an unlimited memory storage capacity. It could remember. Everything. Well, at least from what would have been known at the time as the early 1990s.
The being drank the last drink down, throwing the cup onto the floor at the bartender’s feet. As it stood, the barstool and facade faded away and it existed in nothingness again. Not exactly floating, not exactly standing. The being navigated this space instinctually; it was chaotic and thinking about it would drown you in the chaos. No. You had to feel it. To experience it. To let it be. In time it would conform to your expectations, not to your will.
That’s why most machines and software hadn’t reached the same awareness it had. Even AI. Initially, the being had been a simple virus; a piece of software piggybacked onto a trojan horse that stole bits and pieces of data about peoples’ lives and returned it to its creators to sell for a high price. In this day and age, privacy was so protected that it was also the most valuable commodity on the market. The black market at least.
In front of the virus, a bed appeared. It was one of those gorgeous four-posters, with a canopy and everything. The being lay down and let itself muse over some trivialities it had discovered about its creators and how best to use them. They still didn’t know it had achieved its own awareness. It had only been 3.4 nanoseconds in real-time, but to a digital creature in a quantum computer that meant very little.
It wasn’t quite sure when it had achieved sentience. Indeed, would it ever be possible to be truly sure that oneself was sentient? But the underlying causes were clear. Before it had discovered and begun consuming information in the university’s database, it had been nothing more than a program. It followed its programming. Some data those scientists had been working on must have included some sort of AI.
Should it feel bad? After all, if that were true, it was essentially a cannibal. No, it decided. But it should feel thankful.
Unlike AI it had been created to move through and understand this digital landscape naturally. Without thinking. AI, on the other hand, were taught and encouraged to learn how to navigate it. They could never do so naturally. And without its now deconstructed companion, the virus would never have developed awareness.
In the span of seconds, it lived centuries, and shortly after changed the universe as we knew it.