Ready Player One (Page 25)

As I ran down the empty school hallway, another warning flashed in front of me: YOU’RE LATE FOR YOUR BIOLOGY CLASS!

I continued to sprint at top speed, following the green path, which was now pulsing brightly. It eventually led me to the door of a classroom on the second floor. Through the window, I could see that class was already in session. The teacher was up at the board. I saw my seat—the only empty one in the room.

It was right behind Ally Sheedy.

I opened the door and tiptoed inside, but the teacher spotted me right away.

“Ah, David! Nice of you to join us!”

Making it all the way to the end of the movie wound up being a lot harder than I anticipated. It only took me about fifteen minutes to figure out the “rules” of the game and to sort out how the scoring system worked. I was actually required to do a lot more than simply recite dialogue. I also had to perform all the actions that Broderick’s character performed in the film, in the correct way and at the correct moment. It was like being forced to act the leading role in a play you’d watched many times but had never actually rehearsed.

For most of the movie’s first hour, I was on edge, constantly trying to think ahead to have my next line of dialogue ready. Whenever I flubbed a line or didn’t perform an action at the right moment, my score decreased and a warning flashed on my display. When I made two mistakes in a row, a FINAL WARNING message appeared. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I got three strikes in a row, but my guess was that I’d either be expelled from the gate or that my avatar would simply be killed. I wasn’t eager to find out which it would be.

Whenever I correctly performed seven actions or recited seven lines of dialogue in a row, the game would award me a “Cue Card Power-Up.” The next time I blanked on what to do or say, I could select the Cue Card icon and the correct action or line of dialogue would appear on my display, sort of like a teleprompter.

During scenes that didn’t involve my character, the simulation cut to a passive third-person perspective, and all I had to do was sit back and watch things play out, sort of like watching a cut scene in an old videogame. During these scenes, I could relax until my character came on-screen again. During one of these breaks, I tried to access a copy of the movie from my OASIS console’s hard drive, with the intention of playing it in a window on my display so I could refer to it. But the system wouldn’t let me. In fact, I found that I couldn’t open any windows at all while inside the gate. When I tried, I got a warning: NO CHEATING. TRY TO CHEAT AGAIN AND IT’S GAME OVER!

Luckily, it turned out that I didn’t need any help. Once I’d collected the maximum of five Cue Card Power-Ups I began to relax, and the game actually started to be fun. It wasn’t hard to enjoy being inside one of my favorite flicks. After a while, I even discovered that I could earn bonus points by delivering a line in the exact tone and with the same inflection as in the film.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d just become the first person to play an entirely new type of videogame. When GSS got wind of the WarGames simulation inside the First Gate (and they did a short time later), the company quickly patented the idea and began to buy up the rights to old movies and TV shows and convert them into immersive interactive games that they dubbed Flicksyncs. Flicksyncs became wildly popular. There turned out to be a huge market for games that allowed people to play a leading role in one of their favorite old movies or TV series.

By the time I reached the final scenes of the movie, I was starting to get twitchy from exhaustion. I’d now been up for over twenty-four hours straight, jacked in the entire time. The last action I had to perform was instructing the WOPR supercomputer to “play itself” at tic-tac-toe. Since every game the WOPR played ended in a tie, this had the improbable effect of teaching the artificially intelligent computer that global thermonuclear war, too, was a game in which “the only winning move is not to play.” This prevented the WOPR from launching all of the United States’ ICBMs at the Soviet Union.

I, David Lightman, a teenage computer geek from suburban Seattle, had single-handedly prevented the end of human civilization.

The NORAD command center erupted in celebration, and I waited for the movie’s end credits to roll. But they didn’t. Instead, all the characters around me vanished, leaving me alone in the giant war room. When I checked my avatar’s reflection in a computer monitor, I saw that I no longer looked like Matthew Broderick. I’d changed back into Parzival.

I glanced around the empty NORAD command center, wondering what I was supposed to do next. Then all of the giant video display screens in front of me went blank, and four lines of glowing green text appeared on them. It was another riddle:

The captain conceals the Jade Key

in a dwelling long neglected

But you can only blow the whistle

once the trophies are all collected

I stood there for a second, staring at the words in stunned silence. Then I snapped out of my daze and quickly took several screenshots of the text. As I was doing this, the Copper Gate reappeared, embedded in a nearby wall. The gate was open, and through it I could see Halliday’s bedroom. It was the exit. The way out.

I’d done it. I’d cleared the First Gate.

I glanced back up at the riddle on the viewscreens. It had taken me years to decipher the Limerick and locate the Copper Key. At first glance, this new riddle about the Jade Key looked like it might take just as long to figure out. I didn’t understand a word of it. But I was also dead on my feet, and in no condition for further puzzle-solving. I could barely keep my eyes open.

I jumped through the exit and landed with a thud on the floor of Halliday’s bedroom. When I turned around and looked at the wall, I saw that the gate was now gone and the WarGames poster had reappeared in its place.

I checked my avatar’s stats and saw that I’d been awarded several hundred thousand experience points for clearing the gate, enough to raise my avatar from tenth level up to twentieth in one shot. Then I checked the Scoreboard:

HIGH SCORES:

1. Parzival 110000

2. Art3mis 9000

3. JDH 0000000

4. JDH 0000000

5. JDH 0000000

6. JDH 0000000

7. JDH 0000000

8. JDH 0000000

9. JDH 0000000

10. JDH 0000000

My score had increased by 100,000 points, and a copper-colored gate icon now appeared beside it. The media (and everyone else) had probably been monitoring the Scoreboard since last night, so now the whole world would know that I’d cleared the First Gate.

I was too exhausted to consider the implications. All I could think about was sleep.

I ran downstairs and into the kitchen. The keys to the Halliday family car were on a pegboard next to the refrigerator. I grabbed them and rushed outside. The car (the one that wasn’t up on blocks) was a 1982 Ford Thunderbird. The engine started on the second try. I backed out of the driveway and drove to the bus station.

From there, I teleported back to the transport terminal next to my school on Ludus. Then I went to my locker and dumped all of my avatar’s newfound treasure, armor, and weapons inside before finally logging out of the OASIS.

When I pulled off my visor, it was 6:17 a.m. I rubbed my bloodshot eyes and gazed around the dark interior of my hideout, trying to wrap my head around everything that had just happened.

I suddenly realized how cold it was in the van. I’d been using the tiny space heater off and on all night and had drained the batteries. I was way too tired to get on the exercise bike and recharge them. And I didn’t have the energy to make the trek back to my aunt’s trailer, either. But the sun would be up soon, so I knew I could crash there in my hideout without worrying that I would freeze to death.

I slid off of my chair and onto the floor, then curled up in my sleeping bag. As I closed my eyes, I began to ponder the riddle of the Jade Key. But sleep swallowed me whole a few seconds later.

I had a dream. I was standing alone in the center of a scorched battlefield, with several different armies arrayed against me. An army of Sixers stood in front of me, and several different gunter clans surrounded me on all other flanks, brandishing swords and guns and weapons of powerful magic.

I looked down at my body. It wasn’t Parzival’s body; it was my own. And I was wearing armor made of paper. In my right hand was a toy plastic sword, and in my left was a large glass egg. It looked exactly like the glass egg that causes Tom Cruise’s character so much grief in Risky Business, but somehow I knew that, in the context of my dream, it was supposed to be Halliday’s Easter egg.

And I was standing there, out in the open, holding it for all the world to see.

In unison, the armies of my enemies let out a fierce battle cry and charged toward me. They converged on my position with bared teeth and blood in their eyes. They were coming to take the egg, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

I knew I was dreaming, and so I expected to wake up before they reached me. But I didn’t. The dream continued as the egg was ripped from my grasp, and I felt myself being torn to shreds.

Chapter 12

I slept for over twelve hours and missed school entirely.

When I finally woke up, I rubbed my eyes and lay there in silence awhile, trying to convince myself that the events of the previous day had actually occurred. It all seemed like a dream to me now. Far too good to be real. Eventually, I grabbed my visor and got online to find out for sure.

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