Ready Player One (Page 50)
I checked the ship’s navigational computer. Traveling at light speed, it would take me just over fifteen minutes to reach Frobozz. There was a good chance the Sixers would beat me there. If they did, there would probably already be a small armada of Sixer gunships waiting in orbit around the planet when I dropped out of light speed. I would have to fight my way through them to reach the surface, and then either lose them, or try to find the Jade Key with them still breathing down my neck. Not a good scenario.
Luckily, I had a backup plan. My Ring of Teleportation. It was one of the most valuable magic items in my inventory, looted from the hoard of a red dragon I’d slain on Gygax. The ring allowed my avatar to teleport once a month, to any location in the OASIS. I only used it in dire emergencies as a last-ditch means of escape, or when I needed to get somewhere in a big hurry. Like right now.
I quickly programmed the Vonnegut’s onboard computer to autopilot the ship to Frobozz. I instructed it to activate its cloaking device as soon as it dropped out of hyperspace, then locate me on the planet’s surface and land somewhere nearby. If I was lucky, the Sixers wouldn’t detect my ship and blast it out of the sky before it could reach me. If they did, I’d be stuck on Frobozz with no way to leave, while the entire Sixer army closed in on me.
I engaged the Vonnegut’s autopilot, then activated my Ring of Teleportation by speaking the command word, “Brundell.” When the ring began to glow, I said the name of the planet where I wished to teleport. A world map of Frobozz appeared on my display. It was a large world, and like the planet Middletown, its surface was covered with hundreds of identical copies of the same simulation—in this case, re-creations of the Zork playing field. There were 512 copies of it, to be exact, which meant there were 512 white houses, spaced out evenly across the planet’s surface. I should be able to obtain the Jade Key at any one of them, so I selected one of the copies at random on the map. My ring emitted a blinding flash of light, and a split second later my avatar was there, standing on the surface of Frobozz.
I opened my grail diary and located my original notes on how to solve Zork. Then I pulled up a map of the game’s playing field and placed it in the corner of my display.
Surveying the skies, I didn’t see any sign of the Sixers, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t already arrived. Sorrento and his underlings had probably just teleported to one of the other playing fields. Everybody knew that the Sixers had already been camped out in Sector Seven, waiting for this moment. As soon as they saw Aech’s score increase, they would have used Fyndoro’s Tablet of Finding and learned that he was currently on Frobozz. Which meant the entire Sixer armada would already be on its way here. So I needed to get to the key as quickly as possible, then get the hell of out Dodge.
I took a look around. My surroundings were eerily familiar.
The opening text description in the game Zork read as follows:
WEST OF HOUSE
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.
My avatar now stood in that open field, just west of the white house. The front door of the old Victorian mansion was boarded up, and there was a mailbox just a few yards away from me, at the end of the walkway leading to the house. The house was surrounded by a dense forest, and beyond it I saw a range of jagged mountain peaks. Glancing off to my left, I spotted a path leading to the north, right where I knew it should be.
I ran around to the back of the house. I found a small window there, slightly ajar, and I forced it open and climbed inside. As expected, I found myself in the kitchen. A wooden table sat in the center of the room, and on it rested a long brown sack and a bottle of water. A chimney stood nearby, and a staircase led up to the attic. A hallway off to my left led to the living room. Just like the game.
But the kitchen also contained things that weren’t mentioned in the game’s text description of this room. A stove, a refrigerator, several wooden chairs, a sink, and a few rows of kitchen cabinets. I opened the fridge. It was full of junk food. Fossilized pizza, snack puddings, lunch meat, and a wide array of condiment packets. I checked the cupboards. They were filled with canned and dry goods. Rice, pasta, soup.
One entire cupboard was crammed with boxes of vintage breakfast cereals, most of which had been discontinued before I’d been born. Fruit Loops, Honeycombs, Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, Quisp, Frosted Flakes. And hidden way at the back was a lone box of Cap’n Crunch. Printed clearly on the front of it were the words FREE TOY WHISTLE INSIDE!
The captain conceals the Jade Key.
I dumped the contents of the box out on the counter, scattering golden cereal nuggets everywhere. Then I spotted it—a small plastic whistle encased in a clear cellophane envelope. I tore off the cellophane and held the whistle in my hand. It was yellow in color, with the cartoon face of Cap’n Crunch molded on one side and a small dog on the other. The words CAP’N CRUNCH BO’SUN WHISTLE were embossed on either side.
I raised the whistle to my avatar’s lips and blew into it. But the whistle emitted no sound, and nothing happened.
You can only blow the whistle once the trophies are all collected.
I pocketed the whistle and opened the sack on the kitchen table. I saw a clove of garlic inside, and I added it to my inventory. Then I ran west, into the living room. The floor was covered with a large Oriental rug. Antique furniture, the kind I’d seen in films from the 1940s, was positioned around the room. A wooden door with odd characters carved into its surface was set into the west wall. And against the opposite wall there was a beautiful glass trophy case. It was empty. A battery-powered lantern sat on top of the case, and a shining sword was mounted on the wall directly above it.
I took the sword and the lantern, then rolled up the Oriental rug, uncovering the trapdoor I already knew was hidden underneath. I opened it, revealing a staircase that led down into a darkened cellar.
I turned on the lamp. As I descended the staircase, my sword began to glow.
I continued to refer to the Zork notes in my grail diary, which reminded me exactly how to make my way through the game’s labyrinth of rooms, passageways, and puzzles. I collected all nineteen of the game’s treasures as I went, returning repeatedly to the living room in the white house to place them in the trophy case, a few at a time. Along the way, I had to do battle with several NPCs: a troll, a Cyclops, and a really annoying thief. As for the legendary grue, lurking in the dark, waiting to dine on my flesh—I simply avoided him.
Aside from the Cap’n Crunch whistle hidden in the kitchen, I found no surprises or deviations from the original game. To solve this immersive three-dimensional version of Zork, I simply had to perform the exact same actions required to solve the original text-based game. By running at top speed and by never stopping to sightsee or second-guess myself, I managed to complete the game in twenty-two minutes.
Shortly after I collected the last of the game’s nineteen treasures, a tiny brass bauble, a notice flashed in my display informing me that the Vonnegut had arrived outside. The autopilot had just landed the ship in the field to the west of the white house. Its cloaking device was still engaged and its shields were up. If the Sixers were already here, in orbit around the planet, I was hoping they hadn’t spotted my ship.
I ran back to the living room of the white house one last time and placed the final treasure inside the trophy case. Just as in the original game, a map appeared inside the case, directing me to a hidden barrow that marked the end of the game. But I wasn’t concerned with the map or with finishing the game. All of the “trophies” were now “collected” in the case, so I took out the Cap’n Crunch whistle. It had three holes across the top, and I covered the third one to generate the 2600-hertz tone that had made this whistle famous in the annals of hacker history. Then I blew one clear, shrill note.
The whistle transformed into a small key, and my score on the scoreboard increased by 18,000 points.
I was back in second place, a mere 1,000 points ahead of Aech.
A second later, the entire Zork simulation reset itself. The nineteen items in the trophy case vanished, returning to their original locations, and the rest of the house and the game’s playing field returned to the same state in which I’d found them.
As I stared at the key in the palm of my hand, I felt a brief jolt of panic. The key was silver, not the milky green color of jade. But when I turned the key over and examined it more closely, I saw that it actually appeared to be wrapped in silver foil, like a stick of gum or a bar of chocolate. I carefully peeled the wrapper away, and a key made of polished green stone was revealed inside.
The Jade Key.
And just like the Copper Key, I saw that it had a clue etched into its surface:
Continue your quest by taking the test
I reread it several times, but had no immediate revelations as to its meaning, so I placed the key in my inventory, then examined the wrapper. It was silver foil on one side and white paper on the other. I didn’t see any markings on either side.
Just then, I heard the muffled roar of approaching spacecraft and knew it must be the Sixers. It sounded like they were here in force.
I pocketed the wrapper and ran out of the house. Overhead, thousands of Sixer gunships filled the sky like an angry swarm of metal wasps. The ships were separating into small groups as they descended, heading off in different directions, as if to blanket the entire surface of the planet.