“Luckily, you didn’t need our help anyway,” Shoto said. “Good job, man.”

“Congratulations, Wade,” I heard Art3mis say. And I could tell she meant it too.

“Thanks,” I said. “But I couldn’t have done it without you guys.”

“You’re right,” Art3mis said. “Remember to mention that when you talk to the media. Og says there are a few hundred reporters on their way here right now.”

I glanced back over at the bookshelf that concealed the Big Red Button. “Did you guys see everything Halliday said to me before he vanished?” I asked.

“No,” Art3mis said. “We saw everything up until he told you to ‘try and use your powers only for good.’ Then your vidfeed cut out. What happened after that?”

“Nothing much,” I said. “I’ll tell you about it later.”

“Dude,” Aech said. “You’ve got to check the Scoreboard.”

I opened a window and pulled up the Scoreboard. The list of high scores was gone. Now the only thing displayed on Halliday’s website was an image of my avatar, dressed in Anorak’s robes, holding the silver egg, along with the words PARZIVAL WINS!

“What happened to the Sixers?” I asked. “The ones who were still inside the gate?”

“We’re not sure,” Aech said. “Their vidfeeds vanished when the Scoreboard changed.”


“Maybe their avatars were killed,” Shoto said. “Or maybe …”

“Maybe they were just ejected from the gate,” I said.

I pulled up my map of Chthonia and saw that I could now teleport anywhere in the OASIS simply by selecting my desired destination in the atlas. I zoomed in on Castle Anorak and tapped a spot just outside the front entrance, and in a blink, my avatar was standing there.

I was right. When I’d cleared the Third Gate, the eighteen Sixer avatars who were still inside had been ejected from the gate and deposited in front of the castle. They were all standing there with confused looks on their faces when I appeared in front of them, resplendent in my new threads. They all stared at me in silence for a few seconds, then pulled out guns and swords, preparing to attack. They all looked identical, so I couldn’t tell which one was being controlled by Sorrento. But at this point, I didn’t really care.

Using my avatar’s new superuser interface, I made a sweeping gesture with my hand, selecting all of the Sixer avatars on my display. Their outlines began to glow red. Then I tapped the skull-and-crossbones icon that now appeared on my avatar’s toolbar. All eighteen Sixer avatars instantly dropped dead. Their bodies slowly faded out of existence, each leaving behind a tiny pile of weapons and loot.

“Holy shit!” I heard Shoto say over the comlink. “How did you do that?”

“You heard Halliday,” Aech said. “His avatar is immortal and all-powerful.”

“Yeah,” I said. “He wasn’t kidding, either.”

“Halliday also said you could wish for whatever you wanted,” Aech said. “What are you gonna wish for first?”

I thought about that for a second; then I tapped the new Command icon that now appeared at the edge of my display and said, “I wish for Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto to be resurrected.”

A dialog window popped up, asking me to confirm the spelling of each of their avatar names. Once I did, the system asked me if, in addition to resurrecting their avatars, I wanted to restore all of their lost items, too. I tapped the Yes icon. Then a message appeared in the center of my display: RESURRECTION COMPLETE. AVATARS RESTORED.

“Guys?” I said. “You might want to try logging back into your accounts now.”

“We’re already on our way!” Aech shouted.

A few seconds later, Shoto logged back into his account, and his avatar materialized a short distance in front of me, in the exact spot where he’d been killed a few hours earlier. He ran over to me, grinning from ear to ear. “Arigato, Parzival-san,” he said, bowing low.

I returned the bow, then threw my arms around him. “Welcome back,” I said. A moment later, Aech emerged from the castle entrance and ran over to join us.

“Good as new,” he said, grinning down at his restored avatar. “Thanks, Z.”

“De nada.” I glanced back through the castle’s open entrance. “Where’s Art3mis? She should have reappeared right next to you—”

“She didn’t log back in,” Aech said. “She said she wanted to go outside and get some fresh air.”

“You saw her? What—?” I searched for the right words. “How did she look?”

They both just smiled at me; then Aech rested a hand on my shoulder. “She said she’d be outside waiting for you. Whenever you’re ready to meet her.”

I nodded. I was about to tap my Log-out icon when Aech held up her—his—hand. “Wait a second! Before you log out, you’ve got to see something,” he said, opening a window in front of me. “This is airing on all of the newsfeeds right now. The feds just took Sorrento in for questioning. They stormed into IOI headquarters and yanked him right out of his haptic chair!”

A video clip began to play. Handheld camera footage showed a team of federal agents leading Sorrento across the lobby of the IOI corporate headquarters. He was still wearing his haptic suit and was shadowed by a gray-haired man in a suit who I assumed was his attorney. Sorrento looked annoyed more than anything, as if this were all just a mild inconvenience. The caption along the bottom of the window read: Top IOI Executive Sorrento Accused of Murder.

“The newsfeeds have been playing clips from the simcap of your chatlink session with Sorrento all day,” Aech said, pausing the clip. “Especially the part where he threatens to kill you and then blows up your aunt’s trailer.”

Aech hit Play, and the news clip continued. The federal agents continued to usher Sorrento through the lobby, which was packed with reporters, all pushing against one another and shouting questions. The reporter shooting the video we were watching lunged forward and jammed the camera in Sorrento’s face. “Did you give the order to kill Wade Watts personally?” the reporter shouted. “How does it feel to know you just lost the contest?”

Sorrento smiled, but didn’t reply. Then his attorney stepped in front of the camera and addressed the reporters. “The charges leveled against my client are preposterous,” he said. “The simcap being circulated is clearly a doctored fake. We have no other comment at this time.”

Sorrento nodded. He continued to smile as the feds led him out of the building.

“The bastard will probably get off scot-free,” I said. “IOI can afford to hire the best lawyers in the world.”

“Yes, they can,” Aech said. Then he flashed his Cheshire grin. “But now so can we.”

Chapter 39

When I stepped out of the immersion bay, Og was standing there waiting for me. “Well done, Wade!” he said, pulling me into a crushing bear hug. “Well done!”

“Thanks, Og.” I was still dazed and felt unsteady on my feet.

“Several chief executives from GSS arrived while you were logged in,” Og said. “Along with all of Jim’s lawyers. They’re all waiting upstairs. As you can imagine, they’re anxious to speak with you.”

“Do I have to talk to them right now?”

“No, of course not!” He laughed. “They all work for you now, remember? Make the bastards wait as long as you like!” He leaned forward. “My lawyer is up there too. He’s a good guy. A real pit bull. He’ll make sure that no one messes with you, OK?”

“Thanks, Og,” I said. “I really owe you.”

“Nonsense!” he said. “I should be thanking you. I haven’t had this much fun in decades! You did good, kid.”

I glanced around uncertainly. Aech and Shoto were still in their immersion bays, holding an impromptu online press conference. But Art3mis’s bay was empty. I turned back to Og.

“Do you know which way Art3mis went?”

Og grinned at me, then pointed. “Up those stairs and out the first door you see,” he said. “She said she’d wait for you at the center of my hedge maze.” He smiled. “It’s an easy maze. It shouldn’t take you very long to find her.”

I stepped outside and squinted as my eyes adjusted to the light. The air was warm, and the sun was already high overheard. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

It was a beautiful day.

The hedge maze covered several acres of land behind the mansion. The entrance was designed to look like the facade of a castle, and you entered the maze through its open gates. The dense hedge walls that comprised the maze were ten feet tall, making it impossible to peek over them, even if you stood on top of one of the benches placed throughout the labyrinth.

I entered the maze and wandered around in circles for a few minutes, confused. Eventually, I realized that the maze’s layout was identical to the labyrinth in Adventure.

After that, it took me only a few more minutes to find my way to the large open area at the maze’s center. A large fountain stood there, with a detailed stone sculpture of Adventure’s three duck-shaped dragons. Each dragon was spitting a stream of water instead of breathing fire.

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