Ready Player One (Page 73)

At exactly one minute to noon, one of the Supply Droids, designation SD-03, powered itself on and disengaged from its charging dock. Then it rolled forward on its tank treads, across the bunker floor, to the armory cage at its opposite end. Two robotic sentries stood outside the armory’s entrance. SD-03 transmitted its equipment requisition order to them—an order that I myself had submitted on the Sixer intranet two days earlier. The sentries verified the requisition and stepped aside, permitting SD-03 to roll into the cage. It continued past long storage racks that held a wide array of weaponry: magic swords, shields, powered armor suits, plasma rifles, railguns, and countless other weapons. Finally, the droid rolled to a stop. The rack in front of it held five large octahedron-shaped devices, each roughly the size of a soccer ball. Each device had a small control panel set into one of its eight sides, along with a serial number. SD-03 found the serial number that matched the one on my requisition form. Then, following a set of instructions I’d programmed into it, the little droid used its clawlike index finger to enter a series of commands on the device’s control panel. When it finished, a small light above the keypad turned from green to red. Then SD-03 lifted the octahedron in its arms. As it exited the armory, one antimatter friction-induction bomb was subtracted from the Sixers’ computerized inventory.

SD-03 then rolled out of the bunker and began to climb a series of ramps and staircases the Sixers had built onto the castle’s outer walls to provide access to the upper levels. Along the way, the droid rolled through several security checkpoints. Each time, robotic sentries scanned its security clearance and found that the droid was allowed to go anywhere it damn well pleased. When SD-03 reached Castle Anorak’s uppermost level, it rolled out onto a large observation platform located there.

At this point, SD-03 may have drawn a few curious looks from the squadron of elite Sixer avatars guarding the platform. I have no way of knowing. But even if the guards somehow anticipated what was about to happen and opened fire on the little droid, it was too late for them to stop it now.

SD-03 continued rolling directly to the center of the roof, where a high-level Sixer wizard sat holding the Orb of Osuvox—the artifact generating the spherical shield around the castle.

Then, executing the last of the instructions I’d programmed into it two days earlier, SD-03 lifted the antimatter friction-induction bomb up over its head and detonated it.

The explosion vaporized the supply droid, along with all the avatars stationed on the platform, including the Sixer wizard who was operating the Orb of Osuvox. The moment he died, the artifact deactivated and fell to the now-empty platform.

Chapter 35

A brilliant flash of light accompanied the detonation, momentarily blinding me. When it receded, my eyes focused back on the castle. The shield was down. Now, nothing separated the mighty Sixer and gunter armies but open ground and empty space.

For about five seconds, nothing happened. Time seemed to stop and everything was silent and still. Then all hell broke loose.

Sitting alone in the cockpit of my mech, I let out a silent cheer. Incredibly, my plan had worked. But I had no time to celebrate, because I was now standing smack-dab in the middle of the largest battle in the history of the OASIS.

I don’t know what I expected to happen next. I’d hoped maybe a tenth of the gunters present would join our assault on the Sixers. But in seconds it was clear that every single one of them intended to join the fight. A fierce battle cry rose from the sea of avatars around us and they all surged forward, converging on the Sixer army from every direction. Their total lack of hesitation astounded me, because it was obvious many of them were rushing toward certain death.

I watched in amazement as the two mighty forces clashed all around me, on the ground and in the sky. It was a chaotic, breathtaking scene, like several beehives and wasp nests had been smashed together and then dropped onto a giant anthill.

Art3mis, Aech, Shoto, and I stood at the center of it all. At first, I didn’t even move for fear of crushing the wave of gunters swarming around and over my robot’s feet. Sorrento, however, didn’t wait for anyone to get out of his way. He crushed several dozen avatars (including a few of his own troops) under his mech’s titanic feet as he lumbered toward us, each of his footfalls creating a small crater in the rocky surface.

“Uh-oh,” I heard Shoto mutter as his mech assumed a defensive posture. “Here he comes.”

The Sixer mechs were already taking an immense amount of fire from all directions. Sorrento was getting hit more than anyone, because his mech was the biggest target on the battlefield, and no gunter with a ranged weapon could seem to resist taking a shot at him. The intense barrage of projectiles, fireballs, magic missiles, and laser bolts quickly destroyed or disabled the other Sixer mechs (who never even got a chance to form Voltron). But Sorrento’s robot somehow remained undamaged. Every projectile that hit him seemed to ricochet harmlessly off his mech’s armored body. Dozens of spacecraft swooped and buzzed around him, peppering his mech with rocket fire, but their attacks also seemed to have little effect.

“It is on!” Aech shouted into his comlink. “It is on like Red Dawn!” And with that, he unleashed all of his Gundam’s considerable firepower at Sorrento. At the same moment, Shoto began firing Raideen’s bow, while Art3mis’s mech fired some sort of red energy beam that appeared to originate from Minerva X’s giant metal br**sts. Not wanting to be left out, I fired Leopardon’s Arc Turn weapon, a gold boomerang that launched from the mech’s forehead.

All of our attacks were direct hits, but Art3mis’s beam weapon was the only one that seemed to do any real damage to Sorrento. She blasted a chunk out of the metal lizard’s right shoulder blade and disabled the cannon mounted there. But Sorrento didn’t pause in his approach. As he continued to close in on us, the Mechagodzilla’s eyes began to glow a bright blue. Then Sorrento opened its mouth, and a cascading bolt of blue lightning shot outward from the mech’s open maw. The beam struck the ground directly in front of us, then cut a deep smoking furrow in the earth as it continued to sweep forward, vaporizing every avatar and ship in its path. All four of us managed to leap out of the way by launching our robots skyward, though I nearly took a direct hit. The lightning weapon shut down a second later, but Sorrento continued to trudge forward. I noticed that his mech’s eyes were no longer glowing blue. Apparently, his lightning weapon had to recharge.

“I think we’ve reached the final boss,” Aech joked over the comlink. The four of us were now spread out and circling above Sorrento, making ourselves moving targets.

“Screw this, guys,” I said. “I don’t think we can destroy that thing.”

“Astute observation, Z,” Art3mis said. “Got any bright ideas?”

I thought for a second. “How about I distract him while the three of you cut around and head for the castle entrance?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Shoto replied. But instead of heading for the castle, he banked and flew straight at Sorrento, closing the distance between them in the space of a few seconds.

“Go!” he shouted into his comlink. “This b*****d is all mine!”

Aech cut across Sorrento’s right flank and Art3mis banked left, while I rocketed upward and over him. Below me, I could see Shoto facing off against Sorrento, and the difference in the size of their mechs was disturbing. Shoto’s robot looked like an action figure next to Sorrento’s massive metal dragon. Nevertheless, Shoto cut his thrusters and dropped to the ground directly in front of the Mechagodzilla.

“Hurry,” I heard Aech shout. “The castle entrance is wide open!”

From my vantage point in the sky above, I could see that the Sixer forces surrounding the castle were already being overrun by the endless mob of enemy avatars. The Sixers’ lines were broken, and hundreds of gunters were streaming past them now, running up to the open castle entrance only to discover once they reached it that they couldn’t cross the threshold because they didn’t possess a copy of the Crystal Key.

Aech swung around directly in front of me. Still a hundred feet off the ground, he popped the hatch of his Gundam’s cockpit and leapt out, whispering the robot’s command word in the same instant. As the giant robot shrank back to its original size, he snatched it out of the air and stowed it in his inventory. Now flying by some magical means, Aech’s avatar swooped down, passed over the bottleneck of gunters clustered at the castle entrance, and disappeared through the open double doors. A second later, Art3mis executed a similar maneuver, stowing her own mech in midair and then flying into the castle right behind Aech.

I dropped Leopardon into a sharp dive and prepared to follow them.

“Shoto,” I shouted into my comm. “We’re going inside now! Let’s go!”

“Go ahead,” Shoto replied. “I’ll be right behind you.” But something about the tone of his voice bothered me, and I pulled out of my dive and swung my mech back around. Shoto was hovering above Sorrento, near his right flank. Sorrento slowly turned his mech around and began to stomp back toward the castle. I could see now that his mech’s weakness was its lack of speed. The Mechagodzilla’s slow movement and attacks counterbalanced its seeming invulnerability.

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