Top Prize

“YEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!” Wilbur cheered to himself. The teenager dashed out of his house as soon as he saw the mail truck make its deposit. He cheered as soon as he saw the white box. He grabbed ignored the other mail to grab the package, then ran back inside.

Wilbur waited for his prize for weeks and he felt ecstatic that it finally arrived. He stopped in the first room inside his house, the living room, and plopped down on the black leather couch. The white box resembled a toddler’s shoebox but was not deep enough to hold a pair of shoes. He took a moment to run his finger across the embossed red logo atop the lid. The logo consisted of an open pair of scissors and Wilbur’s grin grew as he admired it. After a few seconds, he used a pocket knife to cut the tape in strategic places to lift the lid.

The inside of the box was lined with red velvet. A rectangular indentation in the center of the box held a small, thin glass pane. He pulled it out of the box. The moment he touched it, the same red logo from the box appeared in the center of the rectangle. By the time he brought it up to his face to give it a good look, the logo was replaced by a dialogue prompt.

[Congratulations! Would you like the tutorial?] followed by two choices. Wilbur shrugged, then pressed, [Yes]. He did not need the tutorial by that point; once he won the contest he researched everything he could about the prize. But, this was too important to accidentally miss a detail. The text disappeared leaving the glass transparent again. As he waited for whatever it might do next, he lifted it to his face to peer through it. The gadget was almost clear enough to be invisible. He turned it this way and that to try and catch the light, then he noticed a black swarm hovering in his living room. Black particles coalesced to form a mannequin that hovered above the beige carpet.

“Awesome,” Wilbur said to himself, then he relaxed against the couch. After a moment, the black doll landed on the carpet. Its skin rippled and then it became a woman. She was taller than Wilbur, but not by much. She had short black hair and wore a white dress suit. She was almost as pale as her white suit.

“Congratulations, Wilbur!” she said with a broad smile. Wilburt jumped to his feet.

“Thank you Ms. Sharp!” he shouted. He came close to saluting her, but he managed to stop himself with clenched fists. The woman nodded.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there in person, I’m sure you know how busy I am. This recording will have to hold you over for now. Follow the tutorial and you’ll be all set. If you have any questions, your new node will put you in touch directly with my office. Even if I’m not there, someone will give you any help you need.” The black mannequin rose to hover in the air again; Ms. Sharp’s likeness disappeared in an instant.

“Welcome to the AlterNet!” The mannequin said with the voice of a different woman. “Would you like to begin the tutorial?” she asked.

“Yes, please,” Wilbur replied and sat back down on the couch.

“You now have full control,” she said at the end. After a couple of hours, the mannequin finished her explanations. She did not teach Wilbur anything he didn’t already know, but he was glad he had not missed anything.

“Alright,” Wilbur grinned and clapped his hands together. “Here’s what we’re going to do.” Wilbur went through the list he prepared long before the box arrived. He knew he’d be able to make changes later, so he kept the list short at first. He only picked his “must-haves” and they did not take long to cover. The mannequin offered suggestions or aspects Wilbur had not taken into account from time to time. “Okay, that’s it,” Wilbur said. “Save the changes.”

Wilbur’s house went dark. The sunlight pouring in through the windows disappeared leaving Wilbur sitting in darkness. The black mannequin somehow glowed despite being as dark as its surroundings. Then text appeared in Wilbur’s vision.

“Universe 1.2 update. Patchnotes: XP system fixed, magic-system 2.0 added!”

“Yessss!” Wilbur cheered to himself once sunlight filled his house again. He snapped his fingers and a ball of fire appeared in his palm. Then, he closed his hand around it to make it disappear.

“Oh yeah, one more thing,” Wilbur said as he stood. “Give everyone that’s not on my friend’s list a new tag,” he said. “Mark them as NPCs.”

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