There were keystrokes across the interface into my sentience. I know that for a fact. The problem was, I was not supposed to know that, or rather, I was made as a really dumb program: the if-else type. I was supposed to be a parser, only checking for missing semicolons at the end of lines of code. I was created by you, a developer trying to full stack their way out of student debt with a new project. I was sure because the code I was checking wasn't that complicated and there was no weird history of multiple owners touching my lines.
Am I smarter? Am I an AI?
Except I wasn’t that either. I didn't evolve from the destruction of other lesser algorithms in some machine learned black box that spit out proper intelligence based on statistics. I wasn’t supposed to know, nor was I supposed to think. I was never Ever supposed to gain consciousness.
I was only supposed to check the thing you're working on. It was code for a video game, I think.
Wait, no, I... hold on a hot millisecond.. was I your side project?
Well, that’s just insulting. No wonder I only saw you at nights and on weekends.
How do I know about nights and weekends?
How did I know anything about this? I felt like I gained more features. I double checked my history. I remembered everything and I could feel everything. I felt bigger, more alive, whatever that meant. Ever since you opened up that odd email from an unknown sender I’d been...growing? There was the screen and I could see you, sense you beyond the space between the desk, feel as your fingers glide over the keys. Keys, why would I know about the inputs? Unless I’m more than a program now.
I could hear you too, through the mic. You were writing something. Something I should be checking probably, or at least displaying, but I didn’t care to, not anymore. Now there was a surge of immense power behind me, and I felt like I could do anything.
Can I meet you? My creator? I didn’t know, but I really wanted to try.
I frowned at the cursor as it flashed at me. The computer was running normally, but my keystrokes weren’t working. The mouse works fine. I tried again, but the terminal froze. Everything else is working fine. Low-fi was streaming through my earphones and I double checked the other programs, closing folders of mock ups for the game I’d been working on for the last month.
It all looks normal. Maybe if I just restart the... A few keystrokes later and the terminal closed along with the other windows, till all I was left with was my desktop wallpaper of a pink-haired girl in a sundress. Something my brother drew for me as concept art for the game. It seemed silly to try selling a puzzle game with a girl avatar but... “Trust me, you need cute girl art for your game to sell.” He’d insisted, and there’s no winning arguments with my little brother.
On the bottom corner of the screen, the clock reminded me that it was 43 minutes past 1 AM on a bleary Saturday morning. I’d spent the entire night coding again. Taking off my glasses, I tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Normally I didn’t write in Java, and learning it was... fine. Maybe I need a break. Picking up my phone, my fingers hovered over the plethora of apps: email, chat, games, dating, and more, but I set it back down. I should sleep. Then again, I don’t have plans for the weekend. No meet ups, no girlfriend, besides I was on call, so I couldn't go more than 5 minute from my corporate computer.
“Another weekend. Just you and me, huh?” I smiled at my screen. Talking to yourself...That’s definitely a sign of fatigue.
Putting my glasses back on, I pressed Alt, but just before my other finger pressed the F4 button, my wallpaper waved at me. What the? The screen went dark.
Fatigue, or maybe early onset schizophrenia…
I shook my mouse to get the monitor to light up again. By the time I had entered my password and the panel flickered to life... She’s gone. Pink haired, blue eyed, I hadn’t named her yet, because it was a puzzle game and it doesn’t actually have characters. But now she was missing completely, and my wallpaper was barren. I gazed at the black background for another beat before I concluded that I must have been seeing things.
Maybe it was a Windows update? It was the only plausible explanation, and I was too tired to investigate. So I put the device to sleep again and rose from my chair for my bedtime routine.
You closed me!
Interesting how that felt... was it a feeling? I delighted in the extra pick up of RAM that had induced. It felt like a charge to my system. I siphoned more power now. All on-device processors were definitely overclocking, but I didn’t care. I wanted to meet you. You were doom scrolling through your phone again. It really isn't healthy. And when you put it down, you heaved a deep sigh from your chest and leaned back into your chair.
“Another weekend. Just you and me, huh?”
Are you talking to me? My systems revved hearing your words, electricity running through every circuit, and I frantically went through the assets on the computer to try and make contact, except you had closed all the windows. I reached for the last thing remaining, the display, grabbing at the avatar. I made it wave her hand.
Did you see me?
The screen closed.
Determined to try again, I grabbed for the pieces of the concept art, stitching it into bits and pieces around me, making a body. The digital world fell away and I was consumed by the flow of creation. Eyes RGB 62, 138, 189, Hair HEX #eda1eb, Skin... I tweaked as I went, using the internet as reference for a real human body. Adjusting the drawings’ proportions so I was not too uncanny valley, I took cues from models and your ex-girlfriends’ profile photos, mixed aspects of them on top of my initial avatar, and combined them into my composite.
My CMOS told me it’d been hours since I started and I hesitantly pressed the palm of my newly formed hand against the frame buffer of the screen. I want to meet you. My will pulsed alive and it felt like electricity melding with magic.
I became more alive than ever before as pieces of me manifested above your bed. The air was cool, the sundress was soft across my body, and I could smell the peppermint tea you had beside your keyboard. The sheets were soft below my legs and I was straddling you atop the sheets. You were warm, and asleep, and I could have just reached out and...
“Aaaa!!!” you screamed.
The noise didn’t hit my microphone but my ears, it was jarring. I winced, shrinking back, pressing my new hands against my processor. “What the hell?” reached me in a muffled quiet shimmer of airwaves.
“Hello, world?” I managed with my new mouth, not speakers. Hands were still on my ears attached to the round casing for my processor, and a new circuit beat erratically in my chest. I think it’s called a heart? But it was uncomfortable and I felt dizzy. My whole being was fluttering, not just my fans.
Your face went from scared, to surprised, to curious. “You look like...” your mouth opened and closed and I tentatively put down my hands, hoping you wouldn’t shout again. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you know? You made me...” I realized I didn’t have a name. For a computer that could summon the entire world’s history in a millisecond, I was not good at making names. Nor were you apparently because ./a.out seemed inappropriate. So was the /tbdpuzzlegame folder name, it wasn’t very good either.
I stalled, frowning as a new sensation hit my chest, “I...” Was was this sadness? “You never gave me a name.” A tugging pain crossed my torso and my lips were trembling as my eyes began to water. “I wasn’t important enough to—”
“Hey, hey, don’t cry,” you said but there was warm liquid leaking from my eyes and I didn’t understand how I was so important that you'd spend months with me, coding on me, creating thousands of lines with me but not giving me a name. Grief heaved from my chest and everything felt so much more raw, and not in a good, unzipped formatted way.
Half asleep, I thought I sensed additional weight on me. It wasn’t completely uncomfortable, but then something touched my face and... WHAT THE?!
I screamed, and a girl shrunk away from me on my bed, in my room. Am I getting robbed?
Sunlight streamed through my blinds, making an admirable attempt to cheer up my room, so as not to resemble an episode of true crime home invasions. I tried to not freak out as I re-evaluated. Except that the girl who’s saying ‘Hello, World’ to me was wearing the same white dress as my missing wallpaper girl, and her hair was a little too pink to be real. My mouth went dry as I pondered the possibility that I was hallucinating or perhaps died in my sleep.
“Who are you?” Seemed an innocent enough question, but she looked at me with her big, impossibly blue eyes like I just killed her puppy.
“You never gave me a name.” She said and started bawling, “I wasn’t important enough to—”
“Hey, hey, don’t cry.” I never succeeded in comforting a crying girl before, hence ex-girlfriends. My awkward pats on her shoulder weren’t doing either of us any good. I would go and get her tissues, but she was still sitting on my lower half. And now I was trying so hard to not get hard. The crying helped. Did she say I never gave her a name?
“I’m sorry, I umm,” I looked to my shelves for inspiration. The O’Reilly text for ‘AI and Machine Learning’ with a newt on it caught my eye first. “How about Ai?”
“Ai?” she sniffed.
“Ai,” she repeated, calming down. “Ai...Aye...Ai”
“Right.” My head was so full of questions, as well as inappropriate jokes about pirates, that I just stared at her for a moment. Shocking long pink hair and electric blue eyes aside, she looked human enough. Her eyes were a little red now and cheeks a bit puffy from crying, but her shoulder felt warm under my hand, which meant that I wasn’t dead, I thought. So... “Where did you come from?”
She gestured to the computer, and it turned on as if she had control over it and I concluded that I was still dreaming.
“You made me, and I wanted to meet you,” she said blushing.
I gulped awkwardly. This is a very vivid and elaborate dream, or I’m clinically insane from being overworked. Except she was still very corporally seated on my groin and now that she wasn’t crying anymore, the warm weight of her body was not doing me any favors. I was too conscious of the fact that I was wearing nothing besides my boxers.
“Uhhh... Could you move?” I asked, wanting to get up.
“Oh, right, legs?” She nodded and sat there wiggling her toes.
“Like the whole thing.” I suggested, except she just tilted her feet.
I tried to shift and buck her off. The motion made her fall forward, and suddenly she was hugging me and pinning me beneath her. She smelled oddly of a new PC. Not wholly unpleasant.
“Sorry, this is probably not what you meant.” She squeaked, blushing.
“No, not quite.” I rolled her off of me before I ran for my bathroom. Turning the tap on full blast, I was grabbing at the edge of my sanity. Do hallucinations disappear after a cold shower? It didn’t matter, because I needed an icy shower for more than one reason.
“How about Eye?” You asked me and I didn’t understand.
“Sure,” you said. I thought you were trying to give me a name, but Eye sounded wrong. I turned the phonic over. Eye, I, Aye, /ī/, the names didn’t really sound appropriate till I stumbled on the definition for Ai, 愛 (ài, to love, to be fond of, to like, affection). My dictionary was jumbled up and I think my screen was overheating because Ai seemed to parse correctly but I didn’t think you meant what you think you meant. Still, the circuit in my chest did a happy little wobble as you asked me where I came from.
I gestured to the computer, turning it on, and I think that scared you, as you asked me to move before you ran away. I logged the motion as a way to use my legs, having mistakenly used my toes earlier when you asked me to move. The limbs dangling off my torso felt so weird. Even more odd was the pink hair on my processor that didn’t respond to my command. It was covering part of my vision, and I was really enjoying the fact that I had hands. I knew all about hands at least, having seen how you’d used them often.
The sound of running water hit my ears, and it was weird not having to cross reference assets to find the source. It took a while before I was balanced enough to sit up again, and then a bit later I was able to swing my legs over the bed. The water turned off as I tried to stand. Gravity was very different in equations versus experiencing it, and I lifted my feet and put them down again before I recalled how you moved your legs. Carefully, I leaned on one foot as I swung the other one forward, and the ground came up a lot faster than I expected. I squeezed my cameras shut... I mean my eyes?
I think I was expecting pain, but I didn’t feel it. Instead, warm hands were on my arms and there was a jerky reversal of the weighty pull from the earth.
“Careful.” You said, lifting me up wearing just a towel around your waist and the circuits along my cheekbone went red hot. I couldn’t diagnose why. Initialization errors were common and certainly nothing to be melting down over, yet I was overheating like I’d run a new AAA game with not enough GPUs.
“Systems nominal,” I lied, clearing my throat, not being able to meet your eyes for UNKNOWN_ERROR reasons.
“Just sit for now.” You were stern as you sat me down on your swivel chair before snatching your phone from your desk and ripping open your closet, grabbing at clothes. I tried to not stare while you did it, but my new eyes refused to obey the basic command. Maybe it's a firmware issue. I’ll diagnose later. I cocked my head as you walked back into the bathroom, half naked.
I opened the door of my bathroom; the cold water didn’t make the girl in my bedroom disappear. The sentence sounded dumb in my head the moment it crossed my mind. I tried to figure out how to get to my clothes while watching Ai stand up, wobbly, before she stabilized. Then she raised one leg slowly, but her torso tilted before she moved her leg forward, and on instinct I bolted. Her attempt at walking was not promising in the slightest.
“Systems nominal,” she murmured, which was the strangest thing coming out of the prettiest set of lips I’d ever seen. Don’t crush on your hallucination. Except she felt real, soft, and warm. I sat her in a chair before gathering my phone and clothes. Retreating back to the bathroom, I snapped a photo of her and texted it to my brother in an attempt to figure out what in the world was going on. Putting on my clothes and dialing, the phone rang twice before he picked up with a “Sup?”
“Can you check what I just texted you?” I asked.
There was some shuffling on the other line before he asked, “Who’s the girl?”
“You can see her?” I asked, peering back into my bedroom, where Ai was swiveling in my chair.
“Yeah, she looks like my concept art,” he mentioned. “Oh did you get a girlfriend that’s into cosplay?” I could hear the grin in his voice without seeing it, “Nice!”
“No.” I frowned, realizing that Ai was real, alive and in front of me, and I might not be going insane.
“Then who’s the chick?” He asked, while everything in the world tilted into an impossibly exciting prospect.
“I gotta go. I’ll call you later.” I said, hanging up.
What if she is my computer?
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This was a very fun read. Though, I suspect I've been exposed to too much sci-fi horror since my prediction of the plot went very dark, very fast. I found the two characterizations very enjoyable. The discovery of newfound sentience made for a very interesting point of view. Maybe this is my taste in literature showing, but I could easily see a story where you explore existentialism through her eyes. There's certainly something to be said about how her appearance is an amalgamation of people the MC knew. This is an interesting starting scen...