Ready Player One (Page 55)
Once I reached Axrenox, finding a copy of the Tyrell Building took only a few minutes. It was pretty hard to miss. A massive pyramid-shaped structure covering several square kilometers at its base, it towered above most of the structures adjacent to it.
I zeroed in on the first instance of the building I saw and headed straight for it. My ship’s cloaking device was already engaged, and I left it activated when I set the Vonnegut down on one of the Tyrell Building’s landing pads. Then I locked the ship and activated all of its security systems, hoping they’d be enough to keep it from getting stolen until I returned. Magic didn’t function here, so I couldn’t just shrink the ship and put it in my pocket, and leaving your vessel parked out in the open on a cyberpunk-themed world like Axrenox was like asking for it to get ripped off. The Vonnegut would be a target for the first leather-clad booster gang that spotted it.
I pulled up a map of the Tyrell Building template’s layout and used it to locate a roof-access elevator a short distance from the platform where I’d landed. When I reached the elevator, I punched in the default security code on the code pad and crossed my fingers. I got lucky. The elevator doors hissed open. Whoever had created this section of the Axrenox cityscape hadn’t bothered to reset the security codes in the template. I took this as a good sign. It meant they’d probably left everything else in the template at the default setting too.
As I rode the elevator down to the 440th floor, I powered on my armor and drew my guns. Five security checkpoints stood between the elevator and the room I needed to reach. Unless the template had been altered, fifty NPC Tyrell security guard replicants would be standing between me and my destination.
The shooting started as soon as the elevator doors slid open. I had to kill seven skin jobs before I could even make it out of the elevator car and into the hallway.
The next ten minutes played out like the climax of a John Woo movie. One of the ones starring Chow Yun Fat, like Hard Boiled or The Killer. I switched both of my guns to autofire and held down the triggers as I moved from one room to the next, mowing down every NPC in my path. The guards returned fire, but their bullets pinged harmlessly off my armor. I never ran out of ammo, because each time I fired a round, a new round was teleported into the bottom of the clip.
My bullet bill this month was going to be huge.
When I finally reached my destination, I punched in another code and locked the door behind me. I knew I didn’t have much time. Klaxons were blaring throughout the building, and the thousands of NPC guards stationed on the floors below were probably already on their way up here to find me.
My footsteps echoed as I entered the room. It was deserted except for a large owl sitting on a golden perch. It blinked at me silently as I crossed the enormous cathedral-like room, which was a perfect re-creation of the office of the Tyrell Corporation’s founder, Eldon Tyrell. Every detail from the film had been duplicated exactly. Polished stone floors. Giant marble pillars. The entire west wall was a massive floor-to-ceiling window offering a breathtaking view of the vast cityscape outside.
A long conference table stood beside the window. Sitting on top of it was a Voight-Kampff machine. It was about the size of a briefcase, with a row of unlabeled buttons on the front, next to three small data monitors.
When I walked up and sat down in front of the machine, it turned itself on. A thin robotic arm extended a circular device that looked like a retinal scanner, which locked into place directly level with the pupil of my right eye. A small bellows was built into the side of the machine, and it began to rise and fall, giving the impression that the device was breathing.
I glanced around, wondering if an NPC of Harrison Ford would appear, to ask me the same questions he asked Sean Young in the movie. I’d memorized all of her answers, just in case. But I waited a few seconds and nothing happened. The machine’s bellows continued to rise and fall. In the distance, the security klaxons continued to wail.
I took out the Jade Key. The instant I did, a panel slid open in the surface of the Voight-Kampff machine, revealing a keyhole. I quickly inserted the Jade Key and turned it. The machine and the key both vanished, and in their place, the Second Gate appeared. It was a doorlike portal resting on top of the polished conference table. Its edges glowed with the same milky jade color as the key, and just like the First Gate, it appeared to lead into a vast field of stars.
I leapt up on the table and jumped inside.
I found myself standing just inside the entrance of a seedy-looking bowling alley with disco-era decor. The carpet was a garish pattern of green and brown swirls, and the molded plastic chairs were a faded orange color. The bowling lanes were all empty and unlit. The place was deserted. There weren’t even any NPCs behind the front counter or the snack bar. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to be until I saw MIDDLETOWN LANES printed in huge letters on the wall above the bowling lanes.
At first, the only sound I heard was the low hum of the fluorescent lights overhead. But then I noticed a series of faint electronic chirps emanating from off to my left. I glanced in that direction and saw a darkened alcove just beyond the snack bar. Over this cavelike entrance was a sign. Eight bright red neon letters spelled out the words GAME ROOM.
There was a violent rush of wind, and the roar of what sounded like a hurricane tearing through the bowling alley. My feet began to slide across the carpet, and I realized that my avatar was being pulled toward the game room, as if a black hole had opened up somewhere in there.
As the vacuum yanked me through the game room entrance, I spotted a dozen videogames inside, all from the mid- to late ’80s. Crime Fighters, Heavy Barrel, Vigilante, Smash TV. But I could now see that my avatar was being drawn toward one game in particular, a game that stood alone at the very back of the game room.
Black Tiger. Capcom, 1987.
A swirling vortex had opened in the center of the game’s monitor, and it was sucking in bits of trash, paper cups, bowling shoes—everything that wasn’t nailed down. Including me. As my avatar neared it, I reflexively reached out and grabbed the joystick of a Time Pilot machine. My feet were instantly lifted off the floor as the vortex continued to pull my avatar inexorably toward it.
At this point, I was actually grinning in anticipation. I was all prepared to pat myself on the back, because I’d mastered Black Tiger long ago, during the first year of the Hunt.
In the years prior to his death, when Halliday had been living in seclusion, the only thing he’d posted on his website was a brief looping animation. It showed his avatar, Anorak, sitting in his castle’s library, mixing potions and poring over dusty spellbooks. This animation had run on a continuous loop for over a decade, until it was finally replaced by the Scoreboard on the morning Halliday died. In that animation, hanging on the wall behind Anorak, you could see a large painting of a black dragon.
Gunters had filled countless message board threads arguing about the meaning of the painting, about what the black dragon signified or whether it signified anything at all. But I’d been sure of its meaning from the start.
In one of the earliest journal entries in Anorak’s Almanac, Halliday wrote that whenever his parents would start screaming at each other, he would sneak out of the house and ride his bike to the local bowling alley to play Black Tiger, because it was a game he could beat on just one quarter. AA 23:234: “For one quarter, Black Tiger lets me escape from my rotten existence for three glorious hours. Pretty good deal.”
Black Tiger had first been released in Japan under its original title Burakku Doragon. Black Dragon. The game had been renamed for its American release. I’d deduced that the black dragon painting on the wall of Anorak’s study had been a subtle hint that Burakku Doragon would play a key role in the Hunt. So I’d studied the game until, like Halliday, I could reach the end on just one credit. After that, I continued to play it every few months, just to keep from getting rusty.
Now, it looked as if my foresight and diligence were about to pay off.
I was only able to hold on to the Time Pilot joystick for a few seconds. Then I lost my grip and my avatar was sucked directly into the Black Tiger game’s monitor.
Everything went black for a moment. Then I found myself in surreal surroundings.
I was now standing inside a narrow dungeon corridor. On my left was a high gray cobblestone wall with a mammoth dragon skull mounted on it. The wall stretched up and up, vanishing into the shadows above. I couldn’t make out any ceiling. The dungeon floor was composed of floating circular platforms arranged end to end in a long line that stretched out into the darkness ahead. To my right, beyond the platforms’ edge, there was nothing—just an endless, empty black void.
I turned around, but there was no exit behind me. Just another high cobblestone wall, stretching up into the infinite blackness overhead.
I looked down at my avatar’s body. I now looked exactly like the hero of Black Tiger—a muscular, half-naked barbarian warrior dressed in an armored thong and a horned helmet. My right arm disappeared in a strange metal gauntlet, from which hung a long retractable chain with a spiked metal ball on the end. My right hand deftly held three throwing daggers. When I hurled them off in the black void at my right, three more identical daggers instantly appeared in my hand. When I tried jumping, I discovered that I could leap thirty feet straight up and land back on my feet with catlike grace.