Parzival: Studying what?
Art3mis: It’s my turn. What do you do when you’re not hunting?
Parzival: Nothing. Hunting is all I do. I’m hunting right now, in fact. Multitasking all over the goddamn place.
Art3mis: Same here.
Parzival: Really? I’ll keep an eye on the Scoreboard then. Just in case.
Art3mis: You do that, ace.
Parzival: What are you studying? In college?
Art3mis: Poetry and Creative Writing.
Parzival: That makes sense. You’re a fantastic writer.
Art3mis: Thanks for the compliment. How old are you?
Parzival: Just turned 18 last month. You?
Art3mis: Don’t you think we’re getting a little too personal now?
Parzival: Not even remotely.
Parzival: Ah. An older woman. Hot.
Art3mis: That is, if I am a woman …
Parzival: Are you a woman?
Art3mis: It’s not your turn.
Art3mis: How well do you know Aech?
Parzival: He’s been my best friend for five years. Now, spill it. Are you a woman? And by that I mean are you a human female who has never had a sex-change operation?
Art3mis: That’s pretty specific.
Parzival: Answer the question, Claire.
Art3mis: I am, and always have been, a human female. Have you ever met Aech IRL?
Parzival: No. Do you have any siblings?
Art3mis: No. You?
Parzival: Nope. You got parents?
Art3mis: They died. The flu. So I was raised by my grandparents. You got parentage?
Parzival: No. Mine are dead too.
Art3mis: It kinda sucks, doesn’t it? Not having your parents around.
Parzival: Yeah. But a lot of people are worse off than me.
Art3mis: I tell myself that all the time. So … are you and Aech working as a duo?
Parzival: Oh, here we go.…
Art3mis: Well? Are you?
Parzival: No. He asked me the same thing about you and me, you know. Because you cleared the First Gate a few hours after I did.
Art3mis: Which reminds me—why did you give me that tip? About changing sides on the Joust game?
Parzival: I felt like helping you.
Art3mis: Well, you shouldn’t make that mistake again. Because I’m the one who’s going to win. You do realize that, right?
Parzival: Yeah, yeah. We’ll see.
Art3mis: You’re not holding up your end of our Q & A, goof. You’re, like, five questions behind.
Parzival: Fine. What color is your hair? IRL?
Parzival: Just like your avatar, eh? Do you have the same face and body, too?
Art3mis: As far as you know.
Parzival: OK. What’s your favorite movie? Of all time?
Art3mis: It changes. Right now? Probably Highlander.
Parzival: You’ve got great taste, lady.
Art3mis: I know. I have a thing for evil bald bad guys. The Kurgan is too sexy.
Parzival: I’m going to shave my head right now. And start wearing leather.
Art3mis: Send photos. Listen, I gotta go in a few minutes, Romeo. You can ask me one last question. Then I need to get some sleep.
Parzival: When can we chat again?
Art3mis: After one of us finds the egg.
Parzival: That could take years.
Art3mis: So be it.
Parzival: Can I at least keep e-mailing you?
Art3mis: Not a good idea.
Parzival: You can’t stop me from e-mailing you.
Art3mis: Actually, I can. I can block you on my contact list.
Parzival: You wouldn’t do that, though. Would you?
Art3mis: Not if you don’t force me to.
Parzival: Harsh. Unnecessarily harsh.
Art3mis: Good night, Parzival.
Parzival: Farewell, Art3mis. Sweet dreams.
chatlog ends. 2.27.2045–02:51:38 OST
I started e-mailing her. At first I showed restraint and only wrote her once a week. To my surprise, she never failed to respond. Usually it was with just a single sentence, saying she was too busy to reply. But her replies eventually got longer and we began to correspond. A few times a week at first. Then, as our e-mails grew longer and more personal, we started writing each other at least once a day. Sometimes more. Whenever an e-mail from her arrived in my inbox, I dropped everything to read it.
Before long, we were meeting in private chat-room sessions at least once a day. We played vintage board games, watched movies, and listened to music. We talked for hours. Long, rambling conversations about everything under the sun. Spending time with her was intoxicating. We seemed to have everything in common. We shared the same interests. We were driven by the same goal. She got all of my jokes. She made me laugh. She made me think. She changed the way I saw the world. I’d never had such a powerful, immediate connection with another human being before. Not even with Aech.
I no longer cared that we were supposed to be rivals, and she didn’t seem to either. We began to share details about our research. We told each other what movies we were currently watching and what books we were reading. We even began to exchange theories and to discuss our interpretations of specific passages in the Almanac. I couldn’t make myself be cautious around her. A little voice in my head kept trying to tell me that every word she said could be disinformation and that she might just be playing me for a fool. But I didn’t believe it. I trusted her, even though I had every reason not to.
I graduated from high school in early June. I didn’t attend the graduation ceremony. I’d stopped attending classes altogether when I fled the stacks. As far as I knew, the Sixers thought I was dead, and I didn’t want to tip them off by showing up for my last few weeks of school. Missing finals week wasn’t a big deal, since I already had more than enough credits to receive my diploma. The school e-mailed a copy of it to me. They snail-mailed the actual diploma to my address in the stacks, which no longer existed, so I don’t know what became of it.
When I finished school, I’d intended to devote all of my time to the Hunt. But all I really wanted to do was spend time with Art3mis.
When I wasn’t hanging out with my new online pseudo-girlfriend, I devoted the rest of my time to leveling up my avatar. Gunters called this “making the climb to ninety-nine,” because ninety-ninth level was the maximum power level an avatar could attain. Art3mis and Aech had both recently done it, and I felt compelled to catch up. It actually didn’t take me very long. I now had nothing but free time, and I had the money and the means to fully explore the OASIS. So I began to complete every quest I could find, sometimes jumping five or six levels in one day. I became a split-class Warrior/Mage. As my stats continued to increase, I honed my avatar’s combat and spell-casting abilities while collecting a wide array of powerful weapons, magic items, and vehicles.
Art3mis and I even teamed up for a few quests. We visited the planet Goondocks and finished the entire Goonies quest in just one day. Arty played through it as Martha Plimpton’s character, Stef, while I played as Mikey, Sean Astin’s character. It was entirely too much fun.
I didn’t spend all of my time goofing off. I tried to keep my head in the game. Really I did. At least once a day, I would pull up the Quatrain and try once again to decipher its meaning.
The captain conceals the Jade Key
in a dwelling long neglected
But you can only blow the whistle
once the trophies are all collected
For a while, I thought that the whistle in the third line might be a reference to a late-’60s Japanese TV show called The Space Giants, which had been dubbed in English and rebroadcast in the United States in the ’70s and ’80s. The Space Giants (called Maguma Taishi in Japan) featured a family of transforming robots who lived in a volcano and battled an evil alien villain named Rodak. Halliday referred to this show several times in Anorak’s Almanac, citing it as one of his childhood favorites. One of the show’s main characters was a boy named Miko, who would blow a special whistle to summon the robots to his aid. I watched all fifty-two ultra-cheesy episodes of The Space Giants, back-to-back, while wolfing down corn chips and taking notes. But when the viewing marathon was over, I still wasn’t any closer to understanding the Quatrain’s meaning. I’d hit another dead end. I decided that Halliday must be referring to some other whistle.
Then, one Saturday morning, I finally made a small breakthrough. I was watching a collection of vintage ’80s cereal commercials when I paused to wonder why cereal manufacturers no longer included toy prizes inside every box. It was a tragedy, in my opinion. Another sign that civilization was going straight down the tubes. I was still pondering this when an old Cap’n Crunch commercial came on, and that was when I made a connection between the first and third lines of the Quatrain: The captain conceals the Jade Key … But you can only blow the whistle …
Halliday was alluding to a famous ’70s hacker named John Draper, better known by the alias Captain Crunch. Draper was one of the first phone phreaks, and he was famous for discovering that the toy plastic whistles found as prizes in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal could be used to make free long-distance phone calls, because they emitted a 2600-hertz tone that tricked the old analog phone system into giving you free access to the line.
The captain conceals the Jade Key
That had to be it. “The captain” was Cap’n Crunch, and “the whistle” was the famous toy plastic whistle of phone phreak lore.