Ready Player One (Page 54)
His voice cut off. At the same moment, his avatar froze, as if he’d been turned to stone, and a log-out icon appeared directly over his head.
Logging out of your OASIS account while you were engaged in combat was the same thing as committing suicide. During the log-out sequence, your avatar froze in place for sixty seconds, during which time you were totally defenseless and susceptible to attack. The log-out sequence was designed this way to prevent avatars from using it as an easy way to escape a fight. You had to stand your ground or retreat to a safe location before you could log out.
Daito’s log-out sequence had been engaged at the worst possible moment. As soon as his avatar froze, he began to take heavy laser and gunfire from all directions. The red warning light on his chest began to flash faster and faster until it finally went solid red. When that happened, Daito’s giant form fell over and collapsed. As he fell, he barely missed crushing Shoto and the Kurosawa. As he hit the ground, his avatar’s body transformed and shrank back to its normal size and appearance. Then it began to disappear altogether, slowly fading out of existence. When Daito’s avatar vanished completely, it left behind a small pile of spinning items on the ground—everything he’d been carrying in his inventory, including the Beta Capsule. He was dead.
I saw another blur of motion on the vidfeed as Shoto ran back to collect Daito’s items. Then he looped around and ran back aboard the Kurosawa. The ship lifted off and blasted into orbit, taking heavy fire the entire way. I was reminded of my own desperate escape from Frobozz. Luckily for Shoto, his brother had wiped out most of the Sixer gunships in the vicinity, and reinforcements had yet to arrive.
Shoto was able to reach orbit and escape by making the jump to light speed. But just barely.
The video ended and Shoto closed the window.
“How do you think the Sixers found out where he lived?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Shoto said. “Daito was careful. He covered his tracks.”
“If they found him, they might be able to find you, too,” I said.
“I know. I’ve taken precautions.”
Shoto removed the Beta Capsule from his inventory and held it out to me. “Daito would have wanted you to have this.”
I held up a hand. “No, I think you should keep it. You might need it.”
Shoto shook his head. “I have all of his other items,” he said. “I don’t need this. And I don’t want it.” He held the capsule out to me, insistent.
I took the artifact and examined it. It was a small metal cylinder, silver and black in color, with a red activation button on its side. Its size and shape reminded me of the lightsabers I owned. But lightsabers were a dime a dozen. I had over fifty in my collection. There was only one Beta Capsule, and it was a far more powerful weapon.
I raised the capsule with both hands and bowed. “Thank you, Shoto-san.”
“Thank you, Parzival,” he said, returning the bow. “Thank you for listening.” He stood up slowly. Everything about his body language seemed to signal defeat.
“You haven’t given up yet, have you?” I asked.
“Of course not.” He straightened his body and gave me a dark smile. “But finding the egg is no longer my goal. Now, I have a new quest. A far more important one.”
“And that is?”
I nodded. Then I walked over and took down one of the samurai swords mounted on the wall and presented it to Shoto. “Please,” I said. “Accept this gift. To aid you in your new quest.”
Shoto took the sword and drew its ornate blade a few inches from the scabbard. “A Masamune?” he asked, staring at the blade in wonder.
I nodded. “Yes. And it’s a plus-five Vorpal Blade, too.”
Shoto bowed again to show his gratitude. “Arigato.”
We rode the elevator back down to my hangar in silence. Just before he boarded his ship, Shoto turned to me. “How long do you think it will take the Sixers to clear the Third Gate?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Hopefully, long enough for us to catch up with them.”
“It’s not over until the fat lady is singing, right?”
I nodded. “It’s not over until it’s over. And it’s not over yet.”
I figured it out later that night, a few hours after Shoto left my stronghold.
I was sitting in my command center, holding the Jade Key and endlessly reciting the clue printed on its surface: “ ‘Continue your quest by taking the test.’ ”
In my other hand, I held the silver foil wrapper. My eyes darted from the key to the wrapper and back to the key again as I tried desperately to make the connection between them. I’d been doing this for hours, and it wasn’t getting me anywhere.
I sighed and put the key away, then laid the wrapper flat on the control panel in front of me. I carefully smoothed out all of its folds and wrinkles. The wrapper was square in shape, six inches long on each edge. Silver foil on one side, dull white paper on the other.
I pulled up some image-analysis software and made a high-resolution scan of both sides of the wrapper. Then I magnified both images on my display and studied every micrometer. I couldn’t find any markings or writing anywhere, on either side of the wrapper’s surface.
I was eating some corn chips at the time, so I was using voice commands to operate the image-analysis software. I instructed it to demagnify the scan of the wrapper and center the image on my display. As I did this, it reminded me of a scene in Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, uses a similar voice-controlled scanner to analyze a photograph.
I held up the wrapper and took another look at it. As the virtual light reflected off its foil surface, I thought about folding the wrapper into a paper airplane and sailing it across the room. That made me think of origami, which reminded me of another moment from Blade Runner. One of the final scenes in the film.
And that was when it hit me.
“The unicorn,” I whispered.
The moment I said the word “unicorn” aloud, the wrapper began to fold on its own, there in the palm of my hand. The square piece of foil bent itself in half diagonally, creating a silver triangle. It continued to bend and fold itself into smaller triangles and even smaller diamond shapes until at last it formed a four-legged figure that then sprouted a tail, a head, and finally, a horn.
The wrapper had folded itself into a silver origami unicorn. One of the most iconic images from Blade Runner.
I was already riding the elevator down to my hangar and shouting at Max to prep the Vonnegut for takeoff.
Continue your quest by taking the test.
Now I knew exactly what “test” that line referred to, and where I needed to go to take it. The origami unicorn had revealed everything to me.
Blade Runner was referenced in the text of Anorak’s Almanac no less than fourteen times. It had been one of Halliday’s top ten all-time favorite films. And the film was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, one of Halliday’s favorite authors. For these reasons, I’d seen Blade Runner over four dozen times and had memorized every frame of the film and every line of dialogue.
As the Vonnegut streaked through hyperspace, I pulled the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner up in a window on my display, then jumped ahead to review two scenes in particular.
The movie, released in 1982, is set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, in a sprawling, hyper-technological future that had never come to pass. The story follows a guy named Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. Deckard works as a “blade runner,” a special type of cop who hunts down and kills replicants—genetically engineered beings that are almost indistinguishable from real humans. In fact, replicants look and act so much like real humans that the only way a blade runner can spot one is by using a polygraph-like device called a Voight-Kampff machine to test them.
Continue your quest by taking the test.
Voight-Kampff machines appear in only two scenes in the movie. Both of those take place inside the Tyrell Building, an enormous double-pyramid structure that houses the Tyrell Corporation, the company that manufactures the replicants.
Re-creations of the Tyrell Building were among the most common structures in the OASIS. Copies of it existed on hundreds of different planets, spread throughout all twenty-seven sectors. This was because the code for the building was included as a free built-in template in the OASIS WorldBuilder construction software (along with hundreds of other structures borrowed from various science-fiction films and television series). So for the past twenty-five years, whenever someone used the WorldBuilder software to create a new planet inside the OASIS, they could just select the Tyrell Building from a drop-down menu and insert a copy of it into their simulation to help fill out the skyline of whatever futuristic city or landscape they were coding. As a result, some worlds had over a dozen copies of the Tyrell Building scattered across their surfaces. I was currently hauling a*s at light speed to the closest such world, a cyberpunk-themed planet in Sector Twenty-two called Axrenox.
If my suspicion was correct, every copy of the Tyrell Building on Axrenox contained a hidden entrance into the Second Gate, through the Voight-Kampff machines located inside. I wasn’t worried about running into the Sixers, because there was no way they could have barricaded the Second Gate. Not with thousands of copies of the Tyrell Building on hundreds of different worlds.