Ready Player One (Page 57)
2112 was originally released in 1976, back when most music was sold on twelve-inch vinyl records. The records came in cardboard sleeves with artwork and a track listing printed on them. Some album sleeves opened up like a book and included more artwork and liner notes inside, along with lyrics and information about the band. As I pulled up a scan of 2112’s original fold-out album sleeve, I saw that there was a second image of the red star symbol on the inside. This one depicted a naked man cowering in front of the star, both his hands raised in fear.
On the opposite side of the record sleeve were the printed lyrics to all seven parts of the 2112 suite. The lyrics for each section were preceded by a paragraph of prose that augmented the narrative laid out in the lyrics. These brief vignettes were told from the point of view of 2112’s anonymous protagonist.
The following text preceded the lyrics to Part I:
I lie awake, staring out at the bleakness of Megadon. City and sky become one, merging into a single plane, a vast sea of unbroken grey. The Twin Moons, just two pale orbs as they trace their way across the steely sky.
When my ship reached Syrinx, I saw the twin moons, By-Tor and Snow Dog, that orbited the planet. Their names were taken from another classic Rush song. And down below, on the planet’s bleak gray surface, there were exactly 1,024 copies of Megadon, the domed city described in the liner notes. That was twice the number of Zork instances there’d been on Frobozz, so I knew the Sixers couldn’t barricade them all.
With my cloaking device engaged, I selected the nearest instance of the city and landed the Vonnegut just outside the wall of its dome, watching my scopes for other ships.
Megadon was anchored atop a rocky plateau, on the edge of an immense cliff. The city appeared to be in ruins. Its massive transparent dome was riddled with cracks and looked as though it might collapse at any moment. I was able to enter the city by squeezing through one of the largest of these cracks, at the base of the dome.
The city of Megadon reminded me of an old 1950s sci-fi paperback cover painting depicting the crumbling ruins of a once-great technologically advanced civilization. In the absolute center of the city I found a towering obelisk-shaped temple with wind-blasted gray walls. A giant red star of the Solar Federation was emblazoned above the entrance.
I was standing before the Temple of Syrinx.
It wasn’t covered by a force field, or surrounded by a detachment of Sixers. There wasn’t a soul in sight.
I drew my guns and walked through the entrance of the temple.
Inside, mammoth obelisk-shaped supercomputers stood in long rows, filling the giant, cathedral-like temple. I wandered along these rows, listening to the deep hum of the machines, until I finally reached the center of the temple.
There, I found a raised stone altar with the five-pointed red star etched into its surface. As I stepped up to the altar, the humming of the computers ceased, and the chamber grew silent.
It appeared I was supposed to place something on the altar, an offering to the Temple of Syrinx. But what kind of offering?
The twelve-inch Leopardon robot I’d acquired after completing the Second Gate didn’t seem to fit. I tried placing it on the altar anyway and nothing happened. I placed the robot back in my inventory and stood there for a moment, thinking. Then I remembered something else from the 2112 liner notes. I pulled them up and scanned over them again. There was my answer, in the text that preceded Part III—“Discovery”:
Behind my beloved waterfall, in the little room that was hidden beneath the cave, I found it. I brushed away the dust of the years, and picked it up, holding it reverently in my hands. I had no idea what it might be, but it was beautiful. I learned to lay my fingers across the wires, and to turn the keys to make them sound differently. As I struck the wires with my other hand, I produced my first harmonious sounds, and soon my own music!
I found the waterfall near the southern edge of the city, just inside the curved wall of the atmospheric dome. As soon as I found it, I activated my jet boots and flew over the foaming river below the falls, then passed through the waterfall itself. My haptic suit did its best to simulate the sensation of torrents of falling water striking my body, but it felt more like someone pounding on my head, shoulders, and back with a bundle of sticks. Once I’d passed through the falls to the other side, I found the opening of a cave and went inside. The cave narrowed into a long tunnel, which terminated in a small, cavernous room.
I searched the room and discovered that one of the stalagmites protruding from the floor was slightly worn around the tip. I grabbed the stalagmite and pulled it toward me, but it didn’t budge. I tried pushing, and it gave, bending as if on some hidden hinge, like a lever. I heard a rumble of grinding stone behind me, and I turned to see a trapdoor opening in the floor. A hole had also opened in the roof of the cave, casting a brilliant shaft of light down through the open trapdoor, into a tiny hidden chamber below.
I took an item out of my inventory, a wand that could detect hidden traps, magical or otherwise. I used it to make sure the area was clear, then jumped down through the trapdoor and landed on the dusty floor of the hidden chamber. It was a tiny cube-shaped room with a large rough-hewn stone standing against the north wall. Embedded in the stone, neck first, was an electric guitar. I recognized its design from the 2112 concert footage I’d watched during the trip here. It was a 1974 Gibson Les Paul, the exact guitar used by Alex Lifeson during the 2112 tour.
I grinned at the absurd Arthurian image of the guitar in the stone. Like every gunter, I’d seen John Boorman’s film Excalibur many times, so it seemed obvious what I should do next. I reached out with my right hand, grasped the neck of the guitar, and pulled. The guitar came free of the stone with a prolonged metallic shhingggg!
As I held the guitar over my head, the metallic ringing segued into a guitar power chord that echoed throughout the cave. I stared down at the guitar, about to activate my jet boots again, to fly back up through the trapdoor and out of the cave. But then an idea occurred to me and I froze.
James Halliday had taken guitar lessons for a few years in high school. That was what had first inspired me to learn to play. I’d never held an actual guitar, but on a virtual axe, I could totally shred.
I searched my inventory and found a guitar pick. Then I opened my grail diary and pulled up the sheet music for 2112, along with the guitar tablature for the song “Discovery,” which describes the hero’s discovery of the guitar in a room hidden behind a waterfall. As I began to play the song, the sound of the guitar blasted off the chamber walls and back out through the cave, despite the absence of any electricity or amplifiers.
When I finished playing the first measure of “Discovery,” a message briefly appeared, carved into the stone from which I’d pulled the guitar.
The first was ringed in red metal
The second, in green stone
The third is clearest crystal
and cannot be unlocked alone
In seconds, the words began to vanish, fading from the stone along with the strains of the last note I’d played on the guitar. I quickly snapped a screenshot of the riddle, already trying to sort out its meaning. It was about the Third Gate, of course. And how it could not “be unlocked alone.”
Had the Sixers played the song and discovered this message? I seriously doubted it. They would have pulled the guitar from the stone and immediately returned it to the temple.
If so, they probably didn’t know there was some sort of trick to unlocking the Third Gate. And that would explain why they still hadn’t reached the egg.
I returned to the temple and placed the guitar on the altar. As I did, the towering computers around me began to emit a cacophony of sound, like a grand orchestra tuning up. The noise built to a deafening crescendo before ceasing abruptly. Then there was a flash of light on the altar, and the guitar transformed into the Crystal Key.
When I reached out and picked up the key, a chime sounded, and my score on the Scoreboard increased by 25,000 points. When added to the 200,000 I’d received for clearing the Second Gate, that brought my total score up to 353,000 points, one thousand points more than Sorrento. I was back in first place.
But I knew this was no time to celebrate. I quickly examined the Crystal Key, tilting it up to study its glittering, faceted surface. I didn’t see any words etched there, but I did find a small monogram etched in the center of the key’s crystal handle, a single calligraphic letter “A” that I recognized immediately.
That same letter “A” appeared in the Character Symbol box on James Halliday’s first Dungeons & Dragons character sheet. The very same monogram also appeared on the dark robes of his famous OASIS avatar, Anorak. And, I knew, that same emblematic letter adorned the front gates of Castle Anorak, his avatar’s impregnable stronghold.
In the first few years of the Hunt, gunters had swarmed like hungry insects to any OASIS location that seemed like a possible hiding place for the three keys, specifically planets originally coded by Halliday himself. Chief among these was the planet Chthonia, a painstaking re-creation of the fantasy world Halliday had created for his high-school Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and also the setting of many of his early videogames. Chthonia had become the gunters’ Mecca. Like everyone else, I’d felt obligated to make a pilgrimage there, to visit Castle Anorak. But the castle was impregnable and always had been. No avatar but Anorak himself had ever been able to pass through its entrance.