After a few minutes of experimentation, I discovered that the only computer that would power on was one of the oldest, the IMSAI 8080, the same model of computer Matthew Broderick owned in WarGames.
When I booted it up, the screen was completely blank, save for one word.
I typed in ANORAK and hit Enter.
IDENTIFICATION NOT RECOGNIZED—CONNECTION TERMINATED.
Then the computer shut itself off and I had to power it back on to get the LOGIN prompt again.
I tried HALLIDAY. No dice.
In WarGames, the backdoor password that had granted access to the WOPR supercomputer was “Joshua.” Professor Falken, the creator of the WOPR, had used the name of his son for the password. The person he’d loved most in the world.
I typed in OG. It didn’t work. OGDEN didn’t work either.
I typed in KIRA and hit the Enter key.
IDENTIFICATION NOT RECOGNIZED—CONNECTION TERMINATED.
I tried each of his parents’ first names. I tried ZAPHOD, the name of his pet fish. Then TIBERIUS, the name of a ferret he’d once owned.
None of them worked.
I checked the time. I’d been in this room for over ten minutes now. Which meant that Sorrento had caught up with me. So he would now be inside his own separate copy of this room, probably with a team of Halliday scholars whispering suggestions in his ear, thanks to his hacked immersion rig. They were probably already working from a prioritized list of possibilities, entering them as fast as Sorrento could type.
I was out of time.
I clenched my teeth in frustration. I had no idea what to try next.
Then I remembered a line from Ogden Morrow’s biography: The opposite sex made Jim extremely nervous, and Kira was the only girl that I ever saw him speak to in a relaxed manner. But even then, it was only in-character, as Anorak, during the course of our gaming sessions, and he would only address her as Leucosia, the name of her D&D character.
I rebooted the computer again. When the LOGIN prompt reappeared, I typed in LEUCOSIA. Then I hit the Enter key.
Every system in the room powered itself on. The sounds of whirring disk drives, self-test beeps, and other boot-up sounds echoed off the vaulted ceiling.
I ran back over to the Atari 2600 and searched through the giant rack of alphabetized game cartridges beside it until I found the one I was looking for: Adventure. I shoved it into the Atari and turned the system on, then hit the Reset switch to start the game.
It took me only a few minutes to reach the Secret Room.
I grabbed the sword and used it to slay all three of the dragons. Then I found the black key, opened the gates of the Black Castle, and ventured into its labyrinth. The gray dot was hidden right where it was supposed to be. I picked it up and carried it back across the tiny 8-bit kingdom, then used it to pass through the magic barrier and enter the Secret Room. But unlike the original Atari game, this Secret Room didn’t contain the name of Warren Robinett, Adventure’s original programmer. Instead, at the very center of the screen, there was a large white oval with pixelated edges. An egg.
I stared at the TV screen in stunned silence for a moment. Then I pulled the Atari joystick to the right, moving my tiny square avatar across the flickering screen. The TV’s mono speaker emitted a brief electronic bip sound as I dropped the gray dot and picked up the egg. As I did, there was a brilliant flash of light, and then I saw that my avatar was no longer holding a joystick. Now, cupped in both of my hands, was a large silver egg. I could see my avatar’s warped reflection on its curved surface.
When I finally managed to stop staring at it, I looked up and saw that the double doors on the other side of the room had been replaced with the gate exit—a crystal-edged portal leading back into the foyer of Castle Anorak. The castle appeared to have been completely restored, even though the OASIS server still wouldn’t reset for several more hours.
I took one last look around Halliday’s office; then, still clutching the egg in my hands, I walked across the room and stepped through the exit.
As soon as I was through it, I turned around just in time to see the Crystal Gate transform into a large wooden door set into the castle wall.
I opened the wooden door. Beyond it there was a spiral staircase that led up to the top of Castle Anorak’s tallest tower. There, I found Anorak’s study. Towering shelves lined the room, filled with ancient scrolls and dusty spellbooks.
I walked over to the window and looked out on a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. It was no longer barren. The effects of the Cataclyst had been undone, and all of Chthonia appeared to be have been restored along with the castle.
I looked around the room. Directly beneath the familiar black dragon painting there was an ornate crystal pedestal on which rested a gold chalice encrusted with tiny jewels. Its diameter matched that of the silver egg I held in my hands.
I placed the egg in the chalice, and it fit perfectly.
In the distance, I heard a fanfare of trumpets, and the egg began to glow.
“You win,” I heard a voice say. I turned and saw that Anorak was standing right behind me. His obsidian black robes seemed to pull most of the sunlight out of the room. “Congratulations,” he said, stretching out his long-fingered hand.
I hesitated, wondering if this was another trick. Or perhaps one final test …
“The game is over,” Anorak said, as if he’d read my mind. “It’s time for you to receive your prize.”
I looked down at his outstretched hand. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, I took it.
Cascading bolts of blue lightning erupted in the space between us, and their spiderweb tines enveloped us both, as if a surge of power were passing from his avatar into mine. When the lightning subsided, I saw that Anorak was no longer dressed in his black wizard’s robes. In fact, he no longer looked like Anorak at all. He was shorter, thinner, and somewhat less handsome. Now he looked like James Halliday. Pale. Middle-aged. He was dressed in worn jeans and a faded Space Invaders T-shirt.
I looked down at my own avatar and discovered that I was now wearing Anorak’s robes. Then I realized that the icons and readouts around the edge of my display had also changed. My stats were all completely maxxed out, and I now had a list of spells, inherent powers, and magic items that seemed to scroll on forever.
My avatar’s level and hit-point counters both had infinity symbols in front of them.
And my credit readout now displayed a number twelve digits long. I was a multibillionaire.
“I’m entrusting the care of the OASIS to you now, Parzival,” Halliday said. “Your avatar is immortal and all-powerful. Whatever you want, all you have to do is wish for it. Pretty sweet, eh?” He leaned toward me and lowered his voice. “Do me a favor. Try and use your powers only for good. OK?”
“OK,” I said, in a voice that was barely a whisper.
Halliday smiled, then gestured around us. “This is your castle now. I’ve coded this room so that only your avatar can enter it. I did this to ensure that you alone have access to this.” He walked over to a bookshelf against the wall and pulled on the spine of one of the volumes it held. I heard a click; then the bookshelf slid aside, revealing a square metal plate set into the wall. In the center of the plate there was a comically large red button embossed with a single word: OFF.
“I call this the Big Red Button,” Halliday said. “If you press it, it will shut off the entire OASIS and launch a worm that will delete everything stored on the GSS servers, including all of the OASIS source code. It will shut down the OASIS forever.” He smirked. “So don’t press it unless you’re absolutely positive it’s the right thing to do, OK?” He gave me an odd smile. “I trust your judgment.”
Halliday slid the bookshelf back into place, concealing the button once again. Then he startled me by putting his arm around my shoulders. “Listen,” he said, adopting a confidential tone. “I need to tell you one last thing before I go. Something I didn’t figure out for myself until it was already too late.” He led me over to the window and motioned out at the landscape stretching out beyond it. “I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think I do.”
“Good,” he said, giving me a wink. “Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t hide in here forever.”
He smiled and took a few steps away from me. “All right. I think that covers everything. It’s time for me to blow this pop stand.”
Then Halliday began to disappear. He smiled and waved good-bye as his avatar slowly faded out of existence.
“Good luck, Parzival,” he said. “And thanks. Thanks for playing my game.”
Then he was completely gone.
“Are you guys there?” I said to the empty air a few minutes later.
“Yes!” Aech said excitedly. “Can you hear us?”
“Yeah. I can now. What happened?”
“The system cut off our voice links to you as soon as you entered Halliday’s office, so we couldn’t talk to you.”