Ready Player One (Page 9)
I didn’t know anything about who Aech was in the real world, but I got the sense his home life wasn’t that great. Like me, he seemed to spend every waking moment logged into the OASIS. And even though we’d never actually met in person, he’d told me more than once that I was his best friend, so I assumed he was just as isolated and lonely as I was.
“So what did you do after you bailed last night?” he asked, tossing me the other Intellivision controller. We’d hung out here in his chat room for a few hours the previous evening, watching old Japanese monster movies.
“Nada,” I said. “Went home and brushed up on a few classic coin-ops.”
“Yeah. But I was in the mood.” I didn’t ask him what he’d done the night before, and he didn’t volunteer any details. I knew he’d probably gone to Gygax, or somewhere equally awesome, to speedrun through a few quests and rack up some XPs. He just didn’t want to rub it in. Aech could afford to spend a fair amount of time off-world, following up leads and searching for the Copper Key. But he never lorded this over me, or ridiculed me for not having enough dough to teleport anywhere. And he never insulted me by offering to loan me a few credits. It was an unspoken rule among gunters: If you were a solo, you didn’t want or need help, from anyone. Gunters who wanted help joined a clan, and Aech and I both agreed that clans were for suck-a***s and poseurs. We’d both vowed to remain solos for life. We still occasionally had discussions about the egg, but these conversations were always guarded, and we were careful to avoid talking about specifics.
After I beat Aech at three rounds of Tron: Deadly Discs, he threw down his Intellivision controller in disgust and grabbed a magazine off the floor. It was an old issue of Starlog. I recognized Rutger Hauer on the cover, in a Ladyhawke promotional photo.
“Starlog, eh?” I said, nodding my approval.
“Yep. Downloaded every single issue from the Hatchery’s archive. Still working my way through ’em. I was just reading this great piece on Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.”
“Made for TV. Released in 1985,” I recited. Star Wars trivia was one of my specialties. “Total garbage. A real low point in the history of the Wars.”
“Says you, assface. It has some great moments.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “It doesn’t. It’s even worse than that first Ewok flick, Caravan of Courage. They shoulda called it Caravan of Suck.”
Aech rolled his eyes and went back to reading. He wasn’t going to take the bait. I eyed the magazine’s cover. “Hey, can I have a look at that when you’re done?”
He grinned. “Why? So you can read the article on Ladyhawke?”
“Man, you just love that crapburger, don’t you?”
“Blow me, Aech.”
“How many times have you seen that sapfest? I know you’ve made me sit through it at least twice.” He was baiting me now. He knew Ladyhawke was one of my guilty pleasures, and that I’d seen it over two dozen times.
“I was doing you a favor by making you watch it, noob,” I said. I shoved a new cartridge into the Intellivision console and started up a single-player game of Astrosmash. “You’ll thank me one day. Wait and see. Ladyhawke is canon.”
“Canon” was the term we used to classify any movie, book, game, song, or TV show of which Halliday was known to have been a fan.
“Surely, you must be joking,” Aech said.
“No, I am not joking. And don’t call me Shirley.”
He lowered the magazine and leaned forward. “There is no way Halliday was a fan of Ladyhawke. I guarantee it.”
“Where’s your proof, dipshit?” I asked.
“The man had taste. That’s all the proof I need.”
“Then please explain to me why he owned Ladyhawke on both VHS and LaserDisc?” A list of all the films in Halliday’s collection at the time of his death was included in the appendices of Anorak’s Almanac. We both had the list memorized.
“The guy was a billionaire! He owned millions of movies, most of which he probably never even watched! He had DVDs of Howard the Duck and Krull, too. That doesn’t mean he liked them, asshat. And it sure as hell doesn’t make them canon.”
“It’s not really up for debate, Homer,” I said. “Ladyhawke is an eighties classic.”
“It’s f**king lame, is what it is! The swords look like they were made out of tinfoil. And that soundtrack is epically lame. Full of synthesizers and s**t. By the m***********g Alan Parsons Project! Lame-o-rama! Beyond lame. Highlander II lame.”
“Hey!” I feigned hurling my Intellivision controller at him. “Now you’re just being insulting! Ladyhawke’s cast alone makes the film canon! Roy Batty! Ferris Bueller! And the dude who played Professor Falken in WarGames!” I searched my memory for the actor’s name. “John Wood! Reunited with Matthew Broderick!”
“A real low point in both of their careers,” he said, laughing. He loved arguing about old movies, even more than I did. The other gunters in the chat room were now starting to form a small crowd around us to listen in. Our arguments were often high in entertainment value.
“You must be stoned!” I shouted. “Ladyhawke was directed by Richard f**king Donner! The Goonies? Superman: The Movie? You’re saying that guy sucks?”
“I don’t care if Spielberg directed it. It’s a chick flick disguised as a sword-and-sorcery picture. The only genre film with less balls is probably … freakin’ Legend. Anyone who actually enjoys Ladyhawke is a bona fide USDA-choice pu**y!”
Laughter from the peanut gallery. I was actually getting a little pissed off now. I was a big fan of Legend too, and Aech knew it.
“Oh, so I’m a pu**y? You’re the one with the Ewok fetish!” I snatched the Starlog out of his hands and threw it against a Revenge of the Jedi poster on the wall. “I suppose you think your extensive knowledge of Ewok culture is gonna help you find the egg?”
“Don’t start on the Endorians again, man,” he said, holding up an index finger. “I’ve warned you. I will ban your a*s. I swear.” I knew this was a hollow threat, so I was about to push the Ewok thing even further, maybe give him some crap for referring to them as “Endorians.” But just then, a new arrival materialized on the staircase. A total lamer by the name of I-r0k. I let out a groan. I-r0k and Aech attended the same school and had a few classes together, but I still couldn’t figure out why Aech had granted him access to the Basement. I-r0k fancied himself an elite gunter, but he was nothing but an obnoxious poseur. Sure, he did a lot of teleporting around the OASIS, completing quests and leveling up his avatar, but he didn’t actually know anything. And he was always brandishing an oversize plasma rifle the size of a snowmobile. Even in chat rooms, where it was totally pointless. The guy had no sense of decorum.
“Are you c***s arguing about Star Wars again?” he said, descending the steps and walking over to join the crowd around us. “That s**t is so played out, yo.”
I turned to Aech. “If you want to ban someone, why don’t you start with this clown?” I hit Reset on the Intellivision and started another game.
“Shut your hole, P***s-ville!” I-r0k replied, using his favorite mispronunciation of my avatar’s name. “He doesn’t ban me ’cause he knows I’m elite! Ain’t that right, Aech?”
“No,” Aech said, rolling his eyes. “That ain’t right. You’re about as elite as my great-grandmother. And she’s dead.”
“Screw you, Aech! And your dead grandma!”
“Gee, I-r0k,” I muttered. “You always manage to elevate the intelligence level of the conversation. The whole room just lights up the moment you arrive.”
“So sorry to upset you, Captain No-Credits,” I-r0k said. “Hey, shouldn’t you be on Incipio panhandling for change right now?” He reached for the second Intellivision controller, but I snatched it up and tossed it to Aech.
He scowled at me. “Prick.”
“Poseur? P***s-ville is calling me a poseur?” He turned to address the small crowd. “This chump is so broke that he has to bum rides to Greyhawk, just so he can kill kobolds for copper pieces! And he’s calling me a poseur!”
This elicited a few snickers from the crowd, and I felt my face turn red under my visor. Once, about a year ago, I’d made the mistake of hitching a ride off-world with I-r0k to try to gain a few experience points. After dropping me in a low-level quest area on Greyhawk, the jerk had followed me. I’d spent the next few hours slaying a small band of kobolds, waiting for them to respawn, and then slaying them again, over and over. My avatar was still only first level at the time, and it was one of the only safe ways for me to level up. I-r0k had taken several screenshots of my avatar that night and labeled them “P***s-ville the Mighty Kobold Slayer.” Then he’d posted them to the Hatchery. He still brought it up every chance he got. He was never going to let me live it down.
“That’s right, I called you a poseur, poseur.” I stood and got up in his grille. “You’re an ignorant know-nothing twink. Just because you’re fourteenth-level, it doesn’t make you a gunter. You actually have to possess some knowledge.”