Ready Player One (Page 40)
The Distracted Globe was located at the western-hemisphere intersection of the Boulevard and the Avenue, two brightly lit streets that stretched completely around the planet along its equator and prime meridian. The club itself was a massive cobalt blue sphere, three kilometers in diameter, floating thirty meters off the ground. A floating crystal staircase led up to the club’s only entrance, a circular opening at the bottom of the sphere.
I made a big entrance when I arrived in my flying DeLorean, which I’d obtained by completing a Back to the Future quest on the planet Zemeckis. The DeLorean came outfitted with a (nonfunctioning) flux capacitor, but I’d made several additions to its equipment and appearance. First, I’d installed an artificially intelligent onboard computer named KITT (purchased in an online auction) into the dashboard, along with a matching red Knight Rider scanner just above the DeLorean’s grill. Then I’d outfitted the car with an oscillation overthruster, a device that allowed it to travel through solid matter. Finally, to complete my ’80s super-vehicle theme, I’d slapped a Ghostbusters logo on each of the DeLorean’s gull-wing doors, then added personalized plates that read ECTO-88.
I’d had it only a few weeks now, but my time-traveling, Ghost Busting, Knight Riding, matter-penetrating DeLorean had already become my avatar’s trademark.
I knew that leaving my sweet ride parked in a PvP zone was an open invitation for some moron to try to boost it. The DeLorean had several antitheft systems installed, and the ignition system was booby-trapped Max Rockatansky–style so that if any other avatar tried to start the car, the plutonium chamber would detonate in a small thermonuclear explosion. But keeping my car safe wouldn’t be a problem here on Neonoir. As soon as I climbed out of the DeLorean I cast a Shrink spell on it, instantly reducing it to the size of a Matchbox car. Then I put the DeLorean in my pocket. Magic zones had their advantages.
Thousands of avatars were packed up against the velvet rope force fields that kept everyone without an invitation at bay. As I walked toward the entrance, the crowd bombarded me with a mix of insults, autograph requests, death threats, and tearful declarations of undying love. I had my body shield activated, but surprisingly, no one took a shot at me. I flashed the cyborg doorman my invitation, then mounted the long crystal staircase leading up into the club.
Entering the Distracted Globe was more than a little disorienting. The inside of the giant sphere was completely hollow, and its curved interior surface served as the club’s bar and lounge area. The moment you passed through the entrance, the laws of gravity changed. No matter where you walked, your avatar’s feet always adhered to the interior of the sphere, so you could walk in a straight line, up to the “top” of the club, then back down the other side, ending up right back where you started. The huge open space in the center of the sphere served as the club’s zero-gravity “dance floor.” You reached it simply by jumping off the ground, like Superman taking flight, and then swimming through the air, into the spherical zero-g “groove zone.”
As I stepped through the entrance, I glanced up—or in the direction that was currently “up” to me at the moment—and took a long look around. The place was packed. Hundreds of avatars milled around like ants crawling around the inside of a giant balloon. Others were already out on the dance floor—spinning, flying, twisting, and tumbling in time with the music, which thumped out of floating spherical speakers that drifted throughout the club.
In the middle of all the dancers, a large clear bubble was suspended in space, at the absolute center of the club. This was the “booth” where the DJ stood, surrounded by turntables, mixers, decks, and dials. At the center of all that gear was the opening DJ, R2-D2, hard at work, using his various robotic arms to work the turntables. I recognized the tune he was playing: the ’88 remix of New Order’s “Blue Monday,” with a lot of Star Wars droid sound samples mixed in.
As I made my way to the nearest bar, the avatars I passed all stopped to stare and point in my direction. I didn’t pay them much notice, because I was busy scanning the club for Art3mis.
When I reached the bar, I ordered a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from the female Klingon bartender and downed half of it. Then I grinned as R2 cued up another classic ’80s tune. “ ‘Union of the Snake,’ ” I recited, mostly out of habit. “Duran Duran. Nineteen eighty-three.”
“Not bad, ace,” said a familiar voice, speaking just loud enough to be heard over the music. I turned to see Art3mis standing behind me. She was wearing evening attire: a gunmetal blue dress that looked like it was spray-painted on. Her avatar’s dark hair was styled in a pageboy cut, perfectly framing her gorgeous face. She looked devastating.
She shouted at the barkeep. “Glenmorangie. On the rocks.”
I smiled to myself. Connor MacLeod’s favorite drink. Man, did I love this girl.
She winked at me as her drink appeared. Then she clinked her glass against mine and downed its contents in one swallow. The chattering of the avatars around us grew in volume. Word that Parzival and Art3mis were here, chatting each other up at the bar, was already spreading through the entire club.
Art3mis glanced up at the dance floor, then back at me. “So how about it, Percy?” she said. “Feel like cutting a rug?”
I scowled. “Not if you keep calling me ‘Percy.’ ”
She laughed. Just then, the current song ended, and the club grew silent. All eyes turned upward, toward the DJ booth, where R2-D2 was currently dissolving in a shower of light, like someone “beaming out” in an original Star Trek episode. Then a huge cheer went up as a familiar gray-haired avatar beamed in, appearing behind the turntables. It was Og.
Hundreds of vidfeed windows materialized in the air, all over the club. Each displayed a live close-up image of Og in the booth, so that everyone could see his avatar clearly. The old wizard was wearing baggy jeans, sandals, and a faded Star Trek: The Next Generation T-shirt. He waved to the assembled, then cued up his first track, a dance remix of “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol.
A cheer swept across the dance floor.
“I love this song!” Art3mis shouted. Her eyes darted up to the dance floor. I looked at her uncertainly. “What’s wrong?” she said with mock sympathy. “Can’t the boy dance?”
She abruptly locked into the beat, bobbing her head, gyrating her hips. Then she pushed off from the floor with both feet and began to float upward, drifting toward the groove zone. I stared up at her, temporarily frozen, mustering my courage.
“All right,” I muttered to myself. “What the hell.”
I bent my knees and pushed off hard from the floor. My avatar took flight, drifting upward and sliding alongside Art3mis. The avatars who were already on the dance floor moved aside to clear a path for us, a tunnel leading to the center of the dance floor. I could see Og hovering in his bubble, just a short distance above us. He was spinning around like a dervish, remixing the song on the fly while simultaneously adjusting the gravity vortex of the dance floor, so that he was actually spinning the club itself, like an ancient vinyl disc.
Art3mis winked at me, and then her legs melted together to form a mermaid’s tail. She flapped her new tail fin once and shot ahead of me, her body undulating and thrusting in time with the machine-gun beat as she swam through the air. Then she spun back around to face me, suspended and floating, smiling and holding out her hand, beckoning me to join her. Her hair floated in a halo around her head, like she was underwater.
When I reached her, she took my hand. As she did, her mermaid tail vanished and her legs reappeared, whirling and scissoring to the beat.
Not trusting my instincts any further, I loaded up a piece of high-end avatar dance software called Travoltra, which I’d downloaded and tested earlier that evening. The program took control of Parzival’s movements, synching them up with the music, and all four of my limbs were transformed into undulating cosine waves. Just like that, I became a dancing fool.
Art3mis’s eyes lit up in surprise and delight, and she began to mirror my movements, the two of us orbiting each other like accelerated electrons. Then Art3mis began shape-shifting.
Her avatar lost its human form and dissolved into a pulsing amorphous blob that changed its size and color in synch with the music. I selected the mirror partner option on my dance software and began to do the same. My avatar’s limbs and torso began to flow and spin like taffy, encircling Art3mis, while strange color patterns flowed and shifted across my skin. I looked like Plastic Man, if he were tripping out of his mind on LSD. Then everyone else on the dance floor also began to shape-shift, melting into prismatic blobs of light. Soon, the center of the club looked like some otherworldly lava lamp.
When the song ended, Og took a bow, then queued up a slow song. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. All around us, avatars began to pair up.
I gave Art3mis a courtly bow and stretched out my hand. She smiled and took it. I pulled her close and we began to drift together. Og set the dance floor’s gravity on a counterclockwise spin, making all of our avatars slowly rotate around the club’s invisible central axis, like motes of dust floating inside a snow globe.
And then, before I could stop myself, the words just came out.