“Welcome to the AlterNet!” Mark heard a woman’s voice behind him and turned around. He stood outside in a golden field of grains under a darkening purple sky. A black, featureless mannequin hovered inches off the ground in front of him.
“Jessie!?” Mark yelled; he ignored the mannequin-like Jessie told him to. After a moment a tall, black portal opened next to Mark. A pink-haired young woman stepped out. As she stepped into the wheat field her clothes changed from a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt to a bright pink martial arts gi.
“Manual tutorial override,” the woman said to the mannequin. The black figure nodded, then disintegrated into tiny black dots. A small group of dots flew from the mannequin to Jessie’s left hand and the rest disappeared. A black bracelet swarmed a ring around her wrist.
“So, this is the AlterNet,” Jessie finally turned her attention to Mark and smiled. She spread her arms wide to indicate the entire landscape. Mark inspected his hands with wide eyes.
“This is amazing. It feels so real,” he said as he took turns making fists with each hand. Jessie nodded and held her hand up to show him the black dots around her wrist.
“But your body is just a whole bunch of these,” she smiled. “Lesson one: AlterNet Servers are real Earths.” Jessie walked forward and jabbed her index finger into his shoulder. He winced in pain and pulled back.
“Hey, that hurt!” Jessie nodded.
“You…,” she poked him again, lighter. “…are back at the academy safe and sound. Your consciousness is projected here using nanos,” She jiggled her wrist at him to draw his attention to the nanos. “But I am actually here. If you die you get to respawn, but since I’m actually here I don’t get that luxury. Keep it in mind when you’re playing.” Mark chuckled.
“I’ll just log in remotely then. I don’t feel like risking my life,” he said. Jessie shook her head and smiled. She held up her right hand and made a tight fist. It began to glow with a bright orange light, but Mark watched the color transition to bright blue.
“Stellar Strike!” Jessie turned her body slightly and punched the air in front of them. All at once a roaring gale flew forward, seemingly out of her hand, and mowed down a 10-foot wide column of wheat. The grains doubled over as if stomped on by a giant, and the damaged tract extended farther than Mark could see. After a quiet moment, the flattened stalks ignited into a bright blue flame. Jessie turned back to Mark with a smile.
“Lesson two: You want to play in person. The system boosts Unique abilities, but only if you’re here in person.”
“Can I do that!” Mark asked. He made a fist and stared at it intently.
“Only if you pick the Monk class,” Jessie replied. “Lesson three: Create your character wisely. You can’t reroll a character once you make it; and, not all AlterNet servers are the same. Some servers only allow certain class and race combinations,” she shrugged. “Some Earths don’t know they’re a server. Choosing a human is the most flexible choice.”
“Alright, I’ll take your word for it,” Mark nodded. “I’ll be human, what are the classes?” Jessie shook her head.
“There’re 25 classes, and I don’t feel like going through them all. What kind of character do you normally make in games?”
“Wizard,” Mark said without hesitation. Jessie nodded.
“That’s a good choice, but there are a few different specializations. Do you want fire, ice or lightning? By the way, fire would sync up the best with your Unique ability.”
“Can I do something like that?” Mark pointed at the flattened section of the field, but it was no longer flat and smoldering. The golden crops had regrown and were now swaying in the breeze. “Or I guess like the damage you did?”
“More,” Jessie smiled. “Now you just need a soul.”
“A soul?” Mark asked. Jessie nodded.
“AlterNet characters can have souls different from their race,” Jessie said. She held up her right hand and made a fist again. Instead of igniting with flame it darkened and turned into dark grey iron. She opened her hand and wiggled metal fingers at Mark. “To give you an idea of how it all works together; I’m a human monk with the soul of a metal elemental.” Jessie slammed her metal fist into her other hand and her entire body became darkened iron. She did it again and her iron skin changed back to her normal, fair, skin color.
“Wow, alright. What souls are there?” Jessie shook her head again.
“Too many. There are 25 races, so you can pick from any of those. On top of that, there’re another group of special souls you can pick that aren’t a playable race. I’ll pick for you. You get a unicorn soul.”
“Wait, why unicorn? What about like an elf or something? I’m assuming elves are a thing.”
“They are. An elf soul will give you a magic bonus, but the unicorn soul grants an AoE bonus,” Jessie said. She tapped Mark’s forehead. “As a fire wizard, you want the AoE bonus.”
“Alright, unicorn it is,” Mark stood up straighter and met Jessie’s eyes. “Make my character.”