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Aech clears the first gate the next day, putting him in third place on the Scoreboard. I-r0k threatens to release any details that he knows about Wade and Aech if they don’t help him. They refuse and I-r0k tells the world that they are both students on Ludus. While many gunters have claimed to know them, I-r0k’s message gains traction. Shortly after, two new names appear on the Scoreboard at the same time, Daito and Shoto, who seem to be working together. Wade is thoroughly stumped on the next clue. He sifts through the many emails he has received and agrees to several endorsement contracts under the terms that he only deals with them in the OASIS, to keep his real identity safe. With the money, Wade plans to get an apartment. Wade also receives a message from Sixers, asking him to hear out their offer. The message also states that if he refuses, they will approach his competitors. Wade knows not to trust them but feels that he should hear them out. Wade agrees to a chat with the Sixers leader, Nolan Sorrento, a former video game designer.
Wade’s avatar appears on a fancy space station and is escorted to meet Nolan Sorrento. Sorrento offers him a job at IOI and escorts him to the surface of the digital Sixer home world, IOI-1. Wade pretends to be interested in their first offer, to be head of their research department, but ultimately declines with some sarcastic banter. The second offer that Sorrento makes is to pay Wade five million dollars for information to clear the first gate, without anyone knowing that he helped. Wade again declines.
Sorrento’s third offer is much different. He states Wade’s full real name, age and location. He opens a video feed of the trailer stack that Wade lives in. Sorrento says that if Wade does not take the $5 million and help, Sorrento will have agents kill him. Wade figures out that Sorrento paid his principal, the only person in the OASIS who would have access to his personal information. Wade believes that either they are bluffing, or they would kill him even after he helped them. He logs out. A few moments later, there is an explosion. He leaves his hideout and sees the burning wreckage of his aunt’s trailer. His aunt, her boyfriend, and even Mrs. Gilmore, are dead. Wade scrambles back to his hideout and calls Aech.
Wade logs back into the OASIS. On Ludus, he sees Sixer gunships landing on the planet. He tells Aech what happened at the trailer park stacks. Aech asks if he needs a place to stay or money, but Wade declines. They plan a private chat in Aech’s Basement with Art3mis, Daito and Shoto. Art3mis arrives in the digital basement first and gets along well with Aech, making Wade jealous. Daito and Shoto arrive shortly after and are introduced as brothers. They discuss what has happened to Wade’s family outside of the OASIS and how each should be careful of his/her true identity. They discuss how the Sixers have set up a force field barrier outside of the Tomb of Horrors on Ludus, so that other gunters will have great difficulty getting the Copper Key.
Wade tells the others about his conversation with Sorrento and what he saw at their virtual headquarters: many researchers, state of the art gear, and the ability for the Sixers to swap users between accounts, based on the tasks required. They briefly debate forming an alliance against the Sixers, but Daito and Shoto are very opposed, and leave the chat room. The remaining three agree that they are all solo gunters, and Art3mis leaves as well. Aech teases Wade about having a crush on Art3mis, telling him that it is obvious.
Not long after the chat session, Wade sees that the Scoreboard’s remaining slots have filled up with Sixer accounts. While the united gunter clans eventually displace the Sixer’s barrier and start trying to acquire the Copper Key for themselves, dozens of Sixer accounts have already finished the First Gate. Once Wade’s first endorsement checks clear, he purchases a bus ticket to Columbus, OH, where the central server for the OASIS is, offering the most secure connection. An armored bus (to protect against wasteland bandits) transports him for several days to Columbus. On the ride, he logs into the OASIS and uses his new resources and gunter fame to change his identity. He creates the name Bryce Lynch, age 22. He starts to accept that he is a fugitive, now living under an assumed name, with powerful people trying to kill him. As Bryce Lynch, Wade uses his online wealth to rent an apartment in Columbus that has heavy security measures and a fiber optic connection to the OASIS. Once inside his new, sparse apartment, he vows not to leave its safety until he has won the contest.
When Wade declines Nolan Sorrento’s offers and the stacks explode, it is a major turning point in the novel. Wade loses everyone that he knows in real life, and he also loses his innocence. During his meeting with Sorrento, Wade clings to the innocent belief that the search for the Easter egg is fundamentally an online game and that he is safe from Sorrento and the Sixers. When the stacks explode, Wade finally understands that all bets are off, and he sheds his innocence. Although Wade understood the realities of life in the stacks, he still felt relatively safe in his life and anonymous in the OASIS. Wade’s loss of innocence means that he accepts his desperate situation and will invest all his time, effort, and resources into stopping the Sixers from finding the Easter egg first.
The expansive resources and power of the IOI make it seem unlikely that Wade or any solo gunter could possibly compete. However, the many messages IOI sends Wade suggest they’re desperate to recruit him since they know that he could be their key to winning the Easter egg hunt. IOI’s attempts seem unlikely to work, however, given Wade’s feelings about the corporation. When Wade decides to meet Sorrento, IOI puts on a show of being welcoming, but Wade is right to be skeptical of this show of good faith. IOI’s attempt to woo Wade with money reveals how accustomed they are to controlling people. The armies of people who work for IOI indicate that IOI’s monetary offers easily sway most people, but Wade’s choice to decline these offers indicates that he values his integrity and that he cannot be bought.
When Wade’s endorsement checks clear, the theme of fluidity of personal identity comes back into focus. He finally has the means to purchase security that is only available to the rich. Changing his identity and transforming into Bryce Lynch allows Wade to protect himself. Assuming a new identity is the only way Wade can stand up as an individual against IOI. Although Wade transforms his identity in the OASIS, he continues to use an important part of his own identity—a level of street smarts that could only come from a life in the stacks. Not only has Wade obtained the ability to fully change his identity, but he has shifted his life’s purpose as well. With his family and neighbors dead, his whole reason for being is to find the egg. Refusing to leave his new apartment until he wins the contest illustrates his commitment to his new identity and new purpose in life.