Ready Player One (Page 46)
The Cataclyst had sold to an anonymous bidder for just over a million credits. The artifact still hadn’t been detonated, so its new owner still had it sitting around somewhere, waiting for the right time to use it. It was something of a running joke now. When a gunter was surrounded by avatars she didn’t like, she would claim to have the Cataclyst in her inventory and threaten to detonate it. But most people suspected that the item had actually fallen into the Sixers’ hands, along with countless other powerful artifacts.
Fyndoro’s Tablet of Finding wound up selling for even more than the Cataclyst. According to the auction description, the tablet was a flat circle of polished black stone, and it had one very simple power. Once a day, its owner could write any avatar’s name on its surface, and the tablet would display that avatar’s location at that exact moment. However, this power had range limitations. If you were in a different OASIS sector than the avatar you were trying to find, the tablet would tell you only which sector your target was currently in. If you were already in the same sector, the tablet would tell you what planet your target was currently on (or closest to, if they were out in space). If you were already on the same planet as your target when you used the tablet, it would show you their exact coordinates on a map.
As the artifact’s seller made sure to point out in his auction listing, if you used the tablet’s power in conjunction with the Scoreboard, it arguably became the most valuable artifact in the entire OASIS. All you had to do was watch the top rankings on the Scoreboard and wait until someone’s score increased. The second that happened, you could write that avatar’s name on the tablet and it would tell you where they were at that exact moment, thus revealing the location of the key they’d just found, or the gate they’d just exited. Due to the artifact’s range limitations, it might take two or three attempts to narrow down the exact location of a key or a gate, but even so, that was still information a lot of people would be willing to kill for.
When Fyndoro’s Tablet of Finding went up for auction, a huge bidding war broke out between several of the large gunter clans. But when the auction finally ended, the tablet wound up selling to the Sixers for almost two million credits. Sorrento himself used his own IOI account to bid on the tablet. He waited until the last few seconds of the auction and then outbid everyone. He could have bid anonymously, but he obviously wanted the world to know who now possessed the artifact. It was also his way of letting those of us in the High Five know that from that moment forward, whenever one of us found a key or cleared a gate, the Sixers would be tracking us. And there was nothing we could do about it.
At first, I was worried the Sixers would also try to use the tablet to hunt down each of our avatars and kill us one at a time. But locating our avatars wouldn’t do them any good unless we happened to be in a PvP zone at the time and were stupid enough to stay put until the Sixers could reach us. And since the tablet could be used only once a day, they would also run the risk of missing their window of opportunity if the Scoreboard changed on the same day they tried to use the tablet to locate one of us. They didn’t take the chance. They kept the artifact in reserve and waited for their moment.
Less than a half hour after Art3mis’s score increase, the entire Sixer fleet was spotted converging on Sector Seven. The moment the Scoreboard changed, the Sixers had obviously used Fyndoro’s Tablet of Finding to try to ascertain Art3mis’s exact location. Luckily, the Sixer avatar using the tablet (probably Sorrento himself) happened to be in a different sector from Art3mis, so the tablet didn’t reveal what planet she was on. It only told the Sixers which sector she was currently in. And so the entire Sixer fleet had immediately hightailed it to Sector Seven.
Thanks to their complete lack of subtlety, the whole world now knew the Jade Key must be hidden somewhere in that sector. Naturally, thousands of gunters began to converge on it too. The Sixers had narrowed the search area for everyone. Luckily, Sector Seven contained hundreds of planets, moons, and other worlds, and the Jade Key could have been hidden on any one of them.
I spent the rest of the day in shock, reeling at the news that I’d been dethroned. That was exactly how the newsfeed headlines put it: PARZIVAL DETHRONED! ART3MIS NEW #1 GUNTER! SIXERS CLOSING IN!
Once I finally got a grip, I pulled up the Scoreboard and made myself stare at it for thirty solid minutes while I mentally berated myself.
1. Art3mis 129,000
2. Parzival 110,000
3. Aech 108,000
4. Daito 107,000
5. Shoto 106,000
6. IOI-655321 105,000
7. IOI-643187 105,000
8. IOI-621671 105,000
9. IOI-678324 105,000
10. IOI-637330 105,000
You’ve got no one but yourself to blame, I told myself. You let success go to your head. You slacked off on your research. What, did you think lightning would strike twice? That eventually you’d just stumble across the clue you needed to find the Jade Key? Sitting in first place all that time gave you a false sense of security. But you don’t have that problem now, do you, asshead? No, because instead of buckling down and focusing on your quest like you should have, you pissed away your lead. You wasted almost half a year screwing around and pining over some girl you’ve never even met in person. The girl who dumped you. The same girl who is going to end up beating you.
Now … get your head back in the game, moron. Find that key.
Suddenly, I wanted to win the contest more than ever. Not just for the money. I wanted to prove myself to Art3mis. And I wanted the Hunt to be over, so that she would talk to me again. So that I could finally meet her in person, see her true face, and try to make sense of how I felt about her.
I cleared the Scoreboard off my display and opened up my grail diary, which had now grown into a vast mountain of data containing every scrap of information I’d collected since the contest began. It appeared as a jumble of cascading windows floating in front of me, displaying text, maps, photos, and audio and video files, all indexed, cross-referenced, and pulsing with life.
I kept the Quatrain open in a window that was always on top. Four lines of text. Twenty-four words. Thirty-four syllables. I’d stared at them so often and for so long that they’d nearly lost all meaning. Looking at them again now, I had to resist the urge to scream in rage and frustration.
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 knew the answer was right there in front of me. Art3mis had already figured it out.
I read over my notes about John Draper, aka Captain Crunch, and the toy plastic whistle that had made him famous in the annals of hacker lore. I still believed that these were the “captain” and “whistle” Halliday was referring to. But the rest of the Quatrain’s meaning remained a mystery.
But now I possessed a new piece of information—the key was somewhere in Sector Seven. So I pulled up my OASIS atlas and began to search for planets with names I thought might somehow be related to the Quatrain. I found a few worlds named after famous hackers, like Woz and Mitnick, but none named after John Draper. Sector Seven also contained hundreds of worlds named after old Usenet newsgroups, and on one of these, the planet alt.phreaking, there was a statue of Draper posing with an ancient rotary phone in one hand and a Cap’n Crunch whistle in the other. But the statue had been erected three years after Halliday’s death, so I knew it was a dead end.
I read through the Quatrain yet again, and this time the last two lines jumped out at me:
But you can only blow the whistle
once the trophies are all collected
Trophies. Somewhere in Sector Seven. I needed to find a collection of trophies in Sector Seven.
I did a quick search of my files on Halliday. From what I could tell, the only trophies he’d ever owned were the five Game Designer of the Year awards he’d won back around the turn of the century. These trophies were still on display in the GSS Museum in Columbus, but there were replicas of them on display inside the OASIS, on a planet called Archaide.
And Archaide was located in Sector Seven.
The connection seemed thin, but I still wanted to check it out. At the very least, it would make me feel like I was doing something productive for the next few hours.
I glanced over at Max, who was currently doing the samba on one of my command center’s monitors. “Max, prep the Vonnegut for takeoff. If you’re not too busy.”
Max stopped dancing and smirked at me. “You got it, El Comanchero!”
I got up and walked over to my stronghold’s elevator, which I’d modeled after the turbolift on the original Star Trek series. I rode down four levels to my armory, a massive vault filled with storage shelves, display cases, and weapon racks. I pulled up my avatar’s inventory display, which appeared as a classic “paper doll” diagram of my avatar, onto which I could drag and drop various items and pieces of equipment.
Archaide was located in a PvP zone, so I decided to upgrade my gear and wear my Sunday best. I put on my gleaming +10 Hale Mail powered armor, then strapped on my favorite set of blaster pistols and slung a pump-action pistol-grip shotgun across my back, along with a +5 Vorpal B*****d Sword. I also grabbed a few other essential items. An extra pair of antigrav boots. A Ring of Magic Resistance. An Amulet of Protection. Some Gauntlets of Giant Strength. I hated the idea of needing something and not having it with me, so I usually ended up carrying enough equipment for three gunters. When I ran out of room on my avatar’s body, I stored the additional gear in my Backpack of Holding.