“Congratulations!” the small crowd of construction workers cheered for Jerry. The middle-aged man in soiled denim overalls smiled at his crew.
“Thanks, guys!” Jerry climbed into the bed of his truck to address them all. “As the first member of Bad Mudders going in I promise we’ll have a rockin’, uh… dope? Slammin’? Whatever the lingo is, you Bad Mudders’ll have a kickass guild waiting for you on the other side!” Whoops and more cheers came from the gathered group.
“Boss! Hey Boss!” One of the workers, Dennis, shouted. Jerry looked down at the young apprentice. “What’re you gonna be?” the baby-faced worker asked.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Jerry shook his head. “I never thought I’d get in, never looked at the classes. You got any advice?” He asked Dennis. The truth was Jerry read every word of the class list and abilities and knew exactly what he would pick, even though he doubted he’d ever get in. But Jerry also liked to boost his crew any chance he got, it’s part of why they were so loyal to him. Jerry knew enough about Dennis to guess his recommendation.
“Well,” Dennis rubbed his chin and cocked his head to the side to think while the rest of crew quieted down to listen. “You’re not a Unique. You’ll get more out of a trading class. How ‘bout a merchant?” the young man asked. That was the class Jerry decided on for that exact reason, but he smiled at Dennis.
“Merchant huh?” Jerry pretended to take a moment to think. “Sounds like something I could do. I might give it a shot, thanks, D.” Dennis smiled broadly while the guys around him mussed his hair and patted him on the back. Jerry turned his wrist to check the time.
“I better get going. Thanks, guys!” He turned and jumped out of the bed of his truck. “Get to work you lazy asses!” he shouted with a smile, then climbed in the truck. Ten minutes later he pulled into his driveway. He left the key in the ignition, stepped out of the truck, then took one last look at his house from the outside. Jerry was one of the few that stayed in his home after the outbreak. He blocked off the stairs and stayed quiet on the second floor as much as possible. He was able to avoid the zombies long enough for help to arrive. He gave the house one last contented sigh then walked in and headed straight for the mudroom.
Jerry pulled a green, glowing node from his pocket and dropped it in the large soil pit in the center of the room. Almost immediately tiny green dots glowed throughout the moist, dark brown dirt.
“Okay,” he said aloud. He stared at the glowing specks in the soil and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he repeated but did not move. He shook his head and hands wildly to loosen up his nerves. Then he took one more deep breath. “Okay,” he nodded to himself and stepped into the soil pit. He knelt down in the dirt then rolled onto his back and wiggled himself into a comfortable position. Jerry felt a wave of sleepiness wash over him and he closed his eyes.
He opened them after a moment but found himself in a new place. He now stood in an endless amber wheat field under a deep purple sky instead of laying in a mudpit.
“Welcome to the AlterNet!” a woman said. Jerry turned toward the voice. It came from a solid black mannequin with a featureless face. Its head moved up and down as if it was appraising something about Jerry. “Immigration Services,” the mannequin said. Its form rippled. As the ripple moved down the body it changed into a tall, pale woman with dark hair. Jerry recognized her as the woman that saved the world from zombies, Dana Sharp.
“Welcome, worker!” Dana said. Jerry couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride at hearing the greeting come out of her mouth. He knew it wasn’t the real her, just a virtual representation; but, at the same time, she almost certainly had some input in the greeting. “You’ve done a great job helping to rebuild your Earth, but you did your share. Rebuilding a world is a long term project that no one generation can complete but you’ve earned a break.” Dana said. Jerry stood straight up and gave her all his attention despite already knowing what was going to happen.
“For all the hardships you’ve survived, and all the hard work you’ve put into rebuilding society I am honored to award you a new life free of charge,” she said. Dana waved her hand at the wheat field and a redwood sapling sprouted out of the ground. It continued to grow until Jerry could no longer find the top of the tree nor see around the trunk. “These trees live for thousands of years while a Zero’s body only lives for about a hundred. If you think about it…,” Dana pushed a finger against Jerry’s chest. “…your body is just a container for your soul.” She gestured at the giant tree as if she were a game-show hostess presenting a prize. “Wouldn’t you prefer to store your soul in a sturdier container?” She grinned. “I know I would,” she winked at Jerry.
“Of course no one wants to just be a tree all day, but that’s where the AlterNet comes in. All you have to do to start a new life is choose where and what you want to be, then live that life. As your consciousness carries on in another universe your body will die; but, your soul will live on inside the tree. As long as the tree lives, your consciousness will remain part of the AlterNet. Not only do you get rewarded by choosing any life you want, you also leave something behind to help future generations.” Dana smiled.
“Ready to get started?” she asked.
“Okay,” Jerry grinned.