The world around him slowly faded into view. He was standing in a gently lit white room. In front of him stood a woman dressed in a simple gray suit. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place from where.
“Hello.” Her voice was soft, modulated, and just a bit off. “Welcome to the tutorial for the Neural Network Service. I am your guide. Please state your name.”
“Welcome, Andrew Metchnik.” She nodded politely as she spoke. “Please select a service package to proceed.”
Three screen materialized in front of her. Each one displayed a single word. From left to right it went: Entertainment, Education, and Social. Andrew reached out his hand to select the middle screen and saw that his arm was a simple gray limb without an elbow.
“Please do not be alarmed.” The guide gave a facsimile of a reassuring smile. “You NNS avatar has not yet been created. Options for customization will become available once you have selected a service. Your initial session will focus on your individual settings and account management.”
“Okay.” The minutely articulated appendage tapped the center screen.
“You have selected, education.” The guide pronounced the word haltingly. “Is this correct?”
“One moment please.”
He watched as his arm snapped into focus, complete with an elbow and fully realized hand. Andrew wiggled his fingers, and took a closer look. They lacked fingernails and his arms were completely hairless, but it was a step up from the broom-handle limb a moment ago. The room around him changed to an auditorium with stadium seating. Beside the guide now stood three other people, a man, a woman, and an androgynous person who were all the same height and build.
“Please make your selection.” The guide did a slow reveal wave to the three people.
“Please select your avatar.”
Andrew stepped up and looked at the three options. All three of them were dressed in the same outfit of green slacks with a white button down shirt. They didn’t look anything like him, they didn’t look like anyone.
“Is this it?”
“The educational program has limited avatar customization to avoid distractions.” She repeated the slow reveal wave. “Please make your selection.”
“Students have three different genders, skin colors, and uniforms to choose from.” Once more she repeated the motion.
“This one.” He pointed to the male figure.
The other two options faded away as the male figure copied Andrews pose. He held the pose for a moment to realize he was now staring at a mirror image. A color palette with three options popped up near his virtual face. He waved it away and another menu with three options took its place. A set of icons similar to the stick figures that identified bathrooms blinked on the menu. One wore the default shirt and pants, another wore a set of coveralls, and the third option was a two-piece suit; the only color option was olive green. He tried each selection out before settling on the suit.
“Are you sure?” The guide asked.
The mirror and the menu were replaced with another screen. This one was filled with a list of service options. He checked off a number of boxes to adjust his settings before he was allowed to move on. Coarse of study was next and he found a swelling sense of pride as he made his selections.
“Please stand by.” The guide smiled her pinched smile. “Your settings have been saved. Please wait while we finish calibrating.”
Andrew looked down at his virtual body. Aside from a few minor details, mostly the lack of fingernails and body hair, it was a pretty convincing representation. He tried to unbutton the suit jacket, but found that the entire suit was just a different skin on the coveralls. There weren’t any real buttons, zippers, or pockets.
“Calibration is complete.” The guide walked to the front of the room. “Do you have any questions pertaining to the NNS?”
“What happens if I wake up suddenly?”
“The NNS works on a buffer system that allows for such interruptions.”
“How long have I been asleep?”
“Time dilation is not currently active.” The guide mimed looking at a watch. “You have currently been at rest for four hours.”
“Wow.” Andrew blinked. “It doesn’t feel like that long.”
“Calibrating the system to you individual specifications made up for the majority of the time. You experienced REM sleep during this time.”
“Will my next session have time dilation?”
“What else do I have to do?”
“Your first session is complete. You will return to your regular sleep pattern. Do you have any more questions?”
“How do I know this will work?”
“Please rephrase your question.”
“How do I make sure I’m actually learning something?”
“You can sign up for periodic messaging during your waking hours that contain review materials.” A small menu appeared as she spoke. “We offer the service on a daily, weekly, or monthly rotation. Would you like to know the rates?”
Andrew winced. “Are any of the services free?”
“There is a bi-monthly review that is free of charge.”
“I’ll sign up for that.”
The guide made a mark on the menu. “Do you have any further questions?”
“No. Thank you.”
“Thank you for using NNS, we look forward to seeing you in the future.”