SPARKNOTES EDITOR'S NOTE
Ready Player Two is Ernest Cline’s sequel to his novel Ready Player One, and its story picks up shortly after the story in the earlier novel ends. The following brief recap of Ready Player One is offered as a quick reminder of its main characters and basic plot developments—all of which will be relevant for Ready Player Two.
In 2045, the world is ruined and most people spend their time online in the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation that caters to every genre of entertainment and shopping. When the creator of the OASIS (James Halliday) dies, a contest is announced. The winner will gain control of the OASIS and its parent company (Gregarious Simulation Games), valued at 240 billion dollars. Wade Watts, a teenager living in poverty, dedicates his life to finding Halliday’s Easter egg. His OASIS avatar, Parzival, joins forces with fellow “gunters” (egg hunters) Art3mis, Aech, Shoto, and Daito to solve a series of clues and puzzles. The Sixers, led by Nolan Sorrento, exploit every loophole in the contest to try to win. Nolan Sorrento even has people killed, including Daito and Wade’s family. With some help from Ogden Morrow, James Halliday’s old business partner, Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto meet up in Oregon and fight the Sixers in the OASIS and win the contest. Anorak, James Halliday’s avatar, warns Wade not to spend too much time in the OASIS, as he had done. One of Halliday’s greatest regrets was his unrequited love for Kira Underwood, who eventually married Ogden Morrow, creating a rift between the friends.
After winning Halliday’s contest, Wade remains offline from the OASIS for nine days. He now lives in Columbus, OH, where he is the head of Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS). Aech is visiting Senegal, and Shoto has returned to Japan. Samantha (Art3mis) is back in Canada but is joining Wade soon. When Wade does log back in, he returns to Anorak’s Castle. He enters Anorak’s study, which only he is allowed to enter, since he is wearing Anorak’s robes (which give him his super-user powers). Wade notices that Halliday’s egg now has an inscription. Since no one could have tampered with the egg, Wade knows that it was programmed by Halliday. The inscription reads: GSS - 13th floor - Vault #42 - 8675309.” He logs out of the OASIS and runs to the thirteenth floor of the GSS building, where the archives are located. He opens Vault 42 with the code. Inside, there is a metal egg that looks like Halliday’s virtual one in the OASIS.
Inside the egg is a new piece of interface hardware. The OASIS Neural Interface (ONI) is a series of wires that attach to someone’s head and allow his or her brain to interface directly with the OASIS. It also allows someone to record experiences outside the OASIS, so that others can relive the experience inside the OASIS. A message from Halliday describes the technology as the most powerful communication tool ever invented. The message tells Wade that plans are included to produce the device, but he should think about releasing it, as it will change the “nature of human existence.” Wade is apprehensive: he knows that Oni is also the name for a Japanese demon. He decides to try the prototype in his office. The device comes with two warnings. The first, that if it is removed while in use, the user might experience brain damage. The second, the user can only use the device for twelve hours before it will deactivate for twelve hours, to prevent Synaptic Overload Syndrome. Wade puts the headset on, logs into the OASIS, and is greeted by the message: Ready Player Two.
The ONI headset puts Wade’s body into a sleeplike state but keeps his mind conscious. Wade immediately feels Anorak’s office around him. He eats an apple and is amazed at how real it tastes. He bites down on his tongue. Halliday has put in a safeguard against feeling pain. Wade finds a file menu inside the ONI display. There are several files with the “.oni” extension. He loads the first and experiences, firsthand, someone surfing in the real world. He cannot control the woman that is surfing, but the input is more intense, since it was recorded in the real world, and not simulated by the OASIS. He tries several more files but chooses not to load any files labeled “sex,” because he feels that it would still count as cheating on Samantha. When Wade logs out, his senses do not register that the real world is any more authentic than his ONI experience.
Wade reveals how Halliday was able to develop the ONI in secret. For the last twenty-five years of his life, Halliday had a research division, Accessibility Research Lab, that designed brain interface hardware for the differently abled. The division developed cochlear implants, retina replacements, and limb control modules that functioned in the real world and OASIS and were made as affordable as possible. After the first successful ONI headset was produced, Halliday closed the division and released all the employees, giving them generous retirement funds in exchange for their silence. Wade, Aech, Shoto, and Samantha vote, and it is decided to release the ONI. The headsets are mass produced.
The first time 7,777,777 simultaneous accounts are logged in to the OASIS with ONI headsets, a new riddle appears on the website that held the Scoreboard. The riddle refers to a Siren, which Wade believes is a reference to Kira Morrow, whose Dungeons & Dragons character, Leucosia, was named after a Siren in Greek mythology. Wade, and many other gunters, try to discern the riddle, without knowing what the prize will be.
A year later, 4 billion ONI units have been sold. GSS buys out IOI and releases all their indentured workers, forgiving all their debts.
OASIS interface with an ONI headset becomes even more addictive than the OASIS was previously. GSS creates a sharing platform for recorded experiences. Users can experience the lives of celebrities, become parts of shows, and play concerts as members of their favorite bands. With the ability to sell clips, users can become wealthy if their content is popular. “You could take any drug, eat any kind of food, and have any kind of sex, without worrying about addiction, calories, or consequences.” GSS creates CenSoft, an automatic censorship software to flag ONI clips that might have suspicious or illegal content. Wade admits to becoming addicted to the OASIS again, despite having wealth, fame, and a loving relationship.
A new contest appears in the OASIS, instructing users to find the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul. Despite dedicating all his free time, Wade is unable to find a single shard for several years. He eventually offers a billion-dollar prize to anyone who can help him find one. After two more years, someone leads Wade to the First Shard, and it sets “in motion a series of events that would drastically alter the fate of the human race.”
As in the preface to the first book, Wade states that the following account will give future generations all the facts “when they decide how to judge my actions.”
Wade wakes up in his mansion he inherited from James Halliday in the contest. He still has to wait through four more hours of ONI lockout, so he exercises and reflects on the events that led to his isolation. After winning Halliday’s contest, he and Samantha (Art3mis) fell in love. Wade, Aech, Shoto, and Samantha invited Ogden Morrow to join them in running GSS, but Morrow declined. When Wade discovered the ONI headset, Samantha was immediately against it, warning that it would only increase humanity’s problems. Wade told her that the technology might have prevented the deaths of Samantha’s parents. Wade believes that this is when she stopped loving him. She was the only one against releasing the ONI, besides Ogden Morrow. Since that meeting, Wade only sees her avatar every three months during GSS board meetings, and they do not speak otherwise.
Samatha has dedicated her life to solving world hunger and the global energy crisis. Wade, Shoto, and Aech have also used their wealth for humanitarian purposes, but they are less invested in saving Earth. They have used 300 billion dollars to build a spaceship, the Vonnegut, which could someday transport them to, along with frozen embryos, to populate another planet. Wade, Shoto and Aech have programmed a min-OASIS experience for the journey, called ARC@DIA. Samantha is outraged at this use of money, claiming that instead of solving the problems of the planet, they are planning to leave it behind.
Wade briefly mentions that his robot servants are Tier One AI, much like the non-player characters (NPCs) in the OASIS. Tier Two AI is reserved for military applications. Tier Three AI, the kind that would stage a robot uprising, does not exist yet, but many nations are working toward it. Trying to waste the remaining time before he can use his ONI rig again, he logs into a robot aboard the Vonnegut and watches Earth from a window. He checks his email and tries to contact Aech and Shoto, but they ignore him. Wade mentions that, despite the popularity of the ONI-net, most people still spend half of their online time interacting within the regular OASIS.
Wade has chosen to lock himself out of his social media accounts for a year. Unable to take online criticism, Wade had used his super-user powers to track and kill the avatars of anyone who insulted him, his friends, or their humanitarian efforts. Wade has never mentioned to anyone that he has access to the Big Red Button inside the OASIS, which Halliday programmed to destroy the OASIS. Wade knows that it would also compromise the Internet and, ultimately, the safety of the world. Wade climbs into an armored vehicle shaped like a spider, and he uses his ONI rig to log in. The protective spider-vehicle descends into a bunker, three kilometers below his mansion: precautions to keep him safe while his body is helpless. His login passphrase has been changed back to: “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.”
Wade’s avatar teleports to the GSS conference room. He greets Aech and Shoto, whose avatars now resemble them in real life. Aech’s avatar is now a black woman, instead of a white man. Samantha’s avatar is running late while she tries to find a decent uplink. Samantha insists on traveling to impoverished countries to offer aid, instead of traveling virtually. Wade notes that his three friends are “kinder, wiser and saner than [he] was or ever would be.” Samantha’s avatar, Art3mis, appears, with a border around her name that shows that she is still using a haptic rig, instead of an ONI.
Faisal Sodhi, the head of GSS operations, starts the meeting and says that all sales are doing well. He mentions a firmware update to keep users from tampering with the twelve-hour limit. Art3mis abstains, the other three vote “yes.” Art3mis suggests that they increase the minimum age to use an ONI to eighteen, since human brains still develop until twenty-five. Shoto points out the educational benefits of the ONI and Samantha is voted down. Wade chooses not to bring up Samantha’s grandmother, who died of cancer, but passed peacefully, since she used an ONI to interact instead of her body. Samantha leaves in anger. Aech and Shoto promise to hang out with Wade soon.
Wade finishes playing through a Flicksync of The Princess Bride, one of Kira Morrow’s favorite films. He is feeling discouraged, as he has spent years working on the Siren Shard clue. Since one of the lines of the clue refers to Halliday’s “heir,” he wonders if the shards are only visible to himself. Wade has searched the planets that Kira created: Florin, a world dedicated to The Princess Bride; Thra, dedicated to The Dark Crystal; Mobius Prime, from Sonic the Hedgehog; Usagi, dedicated to Sailor Moon; Gallifrey, dedicated to Doctor Who; Miyazaki, after the Japanese animator; three versions of Tolkien’s Middle Earth; and Halcydonia, where Kira and Ogden Morrow created educational games.
Wade has also searched Chthonia, which Halliday designed after his own Dungeons & Dragons adventures. Ogden Morrow has stopped talking to Wade, since Wade kept asking him about Kira, which Ogden had asked him not to. Wade receives a message from L0hengrin, a gunter and star of the YouTube channel The L0w-Down. While L0hengrin’s avatar uses different genders, her profile states that her preferred pronouns are “she/her.” Wade has always resisted looking at L0hengrin’s account information, not wanting to spoil his interest in her. L0hengrin tells Wade that she has found one of the shards and can show him, on the Middletown, OH planet, where the First Gate was located. He makes his avatar invisible and teleports to her location.
Wade sees L0hengrin’s avatar, standing in the recreation of Ogden Morrow’s basement. Wade’s avatar, Parzival, is still invisible. Wade reflects on how Aech had created her chatroom, the Basement, to look like Morrow’s. Wade had spent many years there. Wade sees that L0hengrin is in a private chatroom. Using his super-user access, he joins the chatroom, still invisible.
L0hengrin is speaking with her friends, Kastagir, Rizzo, Lilith, and Wukong. They refer to themselves as the L0w Five, after Wade and his friends’ “High Five.” L0hengrin’s tells her friends that she will use the billion-dollar reward to buy a house and fly each of them out so that they can live together. This reminds Wade of how close he was to the High Five during the Halliday egg hunt. Wade uses his super-user access to look at each of the L0w Five’s profiles. They are all recent graduates of the same Ludus high school. Although Wade admits to himself that it is unethical, he looks at L0hengrin’s private information, including a video feed of her home. Her name is Skylar Adkins. She is poor and lives in a trailer stack, much like Wade did. She was designated male at birth but changed her gender to female. Wade admits that he might have had a sexual-identity crisis in his youth, but after years of experiencing different perspectives in the ONI-net, it does not bother him. Before L0hengrin can leave the digital basement, Wade reveals his avatar.
L0hengrin and Wade admit that they are each fans of the other’s work. L0hengrin becomes embarrassed and nervous. Wade reassures her and is reminded of himself when he was younger. L0hengrin mentions “the couplet,” but Wade does not know what she is talking about. L0hengrin explains that after she put flowers on the digital grave of Kira Morrow, a message appeared: “The First Shard lies in the Siren’s first den / So the question isn’t where, but when?” They discuss how the recreation of Morrow’s basement is always 1986 and Kira didn’t move to Middletown until 1988. L0hengrin show’s Wade a secret calendar in the basement and the date changes to April 1989. They take a cassette tape, labeled “Leucosia’s Mix,” and head to the house where Kira stayed. The guest bedroom where Kira stayed was normally empty in the Middletown simulation (of 1986), but Wade and L0hengrin find it filled with posters and drawings. They play one of the songs on the cassette and a necklace floats out of the nearby jewelry box. The necklace transforms into a large crystal. Wade believes that he has finally found the first of the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul.
Wade feels guilty that he didn’t discover the shard for himself and compares himself to the Sixers. L0hengrin shows him that her hand passes right through the shard. Wade grabs the shard and his surroundings become an old classroom. He is Kira Underwood (Morrow), age nine or ten, working on a digital drawing of a unicorn. A moment later, Wade’s avatar is back in the room with L0hengrin. The crystal shows a new clue: “Her paint and her canvas, the one and the zero / The very first heroine, demoted to hero.” L0hengrin starts giving her input, but Wade cuts her off and tells her that he wants to solve the clue on his own. He transfers one billion dollars to her OASIS account.
L0hengrin says that Wade has made some questionable decisions lately, but that it’s “never too late to turn things around” and that she still respects him. Wade is “touched, hurt and angered.” Wade teleports his avatar back to his stronghold. He logs out and goes to sleep. He has the same recurring dream: his hand is over the Big Red Button (which would destroy the OASIS) and he pushes it. Then, he watches his aunt’s trailer explode. He doesn’t try to run or move. He just stands there “and lets justice take its course.”
Wade’s phone wakes him up. He assumes that Faisal is calling because Wade is now on the top of the new Scoreboard with the First Shard. Instead, Faisal tells Wade that Ogden Morrow is missing. Wade logs into a remote robot and searches Morrow’s home. All of Morrow’s security systems shut off at 7 p.m. His private plane and one of his robots are missing as well. Everything else in his home looks intact. While Wade is searching for clues, an alarm sounds in his home. Miles Gendell, head of GSS executive security, tells Wade that Nolan Sorrento has escaped from maximum-security prison, only fifty miles from Wade’s mansion. The prison footage shows that a hacker opened all the doors to let Sorrento escape and locked everyone else inside the prison.
Wade thinks about how Sorrento could have organized the escape, since he was only allowed to talk to his lawyers. Wade looks at Sorrento’s OASIS logs, and they are empty. Wade states that deleting OASIS logs is impossible, even with super-user access. Wade assumes that Sorrento’s escape and Morrow’s disappearance are related. Wade gets a Scoreboard notification. The Great and Powerful Og (Morrow’s avatar) has acquired the First Shard. Not long after, the Scoreboard shows that Og has the Second Shard. Wade rushes to log into his ONI to try and catch Og, but he is interrupted by an emergency call from Faisal.
Wade teleports his avatar to the GSS conference room and meets Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto. He learns that Samantha is connecting through an uplink on a plane. Everyone looks upset. Faisal shakes Wade’s hand and then transforms into Anorak, James Halliday’s avatar. When Wade shook his hand, Anorak took his magical robes back from Wade. Wade’s avatar, Parzival, becomes a normal user again. Anorak explains to the group that Nolan Sorrento is holding Ogden Morrow at gunpoint, keeping Ogden logged into the OASIS. Anorak then explains to the group that James Halliday created him using the ONI brain mapping software. Anorak is the first true AI.
Anorak wants the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul, and when he tried to force Ogden Morrow to collect them, Morrow became uncooperative. Anorak explains that the new firmware update gives him control over whether the users can log out. He tells Wade, Aech, Shoto, and Art3mis that they must bring him all the shards, or they will be killed by their ONI units. Art3mis states that she is not using an ONI unit. Anorak points out that he can crash her plane. The group tries unsuccessfully to reason with Anorak. He tells them that they each have less than twelve hours (and the 500 million users currently logged in will also die) and vanishes. The group freaks out.
Wade has a panic attack until Art3mis can calm him down. Wade, Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto talk with Faisal about different methods to escape the situation. After checking with the engineers, Faisal tells the others that they cannot log out or cut power without putting themselves into a coma. He reassures them that the engineers are working on a solution. Art3mis points out that Anorak is not a super-genius, he is only as smart as Halliday was, and Halliday was not good with personal interaction, which might be a weakness. Wade tells them about the Big Red Button that would destroy the OASIS and most of the Internet, causing problems across the world.
Faisal tells them that they cannot track Anorak, but they can tell if he is nearby. He gives them bracelets that allow them to know if Anorak is within a hundred meters in case he tries to spy on their avatars. Everyone agrees that they should not tell the other OASIS users. They plan to hunt down the shards, but they wonder why Ogden Morrow refused to cooperate, knowing that hundreds of millions would die. Art3mis logs out, turns her phone to live stream, grabs a parachute and then jumps out of her plane. The plane tries to hit her in midair. To escape, she releases her primary parachute and plummets, then opens her secondary parachute near the ground. The plane turns and crashes near where she landed, setting the region on fire.
Wade, Aech, and Shoto rewatch the footage of the plane crash. They cannot see if Samantha survived. A vidscreen lights up and shows Anorak, who tells them that he could not let Samantha escape and had to prove his resolve. Anorak tells them that humans have already ruined the planet and that they are all “dead already,” quoting Terminator character Sarah Connor. Wade yells at the vidscreen and Anorak disconnects.
A moment later, Art3mis appears in the conference room, and Samantha tells them how she avoided the blast. She tells them to find the shards and logs out, with her own agenda to address. Wade shows Aech and Shoto the Second Shard. After some discussion, they realize that the shard refers to the game designer Rieko Kodama, and not Kira Morrow. Kodama’s first game had a ninja princess that was changed to a male ninja when it was ported to America. Aech, Shoto, and Wade travel to the planet dedicated to Kodama and locate the portal to Ninja Princess. The First Shard tells Wade that he must defeat the game’s original enemies and the imposter male ninja, Kazamaru. Wade enters the portal while Aech and Shoto connect to his earpiece so they can give him advice.
Wade’s avatar materializes in the Happytime Pizza arcade from 1980s Middletown, OH. It looks the same as when he played the perfect game of Pac-Man while hunting for Halliday’s egg (in Ready Player One). Wade notices that his avatar is actually Kira Underwood (Morrow) as a teenager. Wade walks through the game room and finds a cabinet of Sega Ninja (the American title of Ninja Princess). There are other NPCs representing teenage boys in the game room, but they ignore Wade. Wade puts a quarter in the machine and starts to play Sega Ninja. He has a conversation with Shoto and Aech about how he has not played the game much. Shoto gives Wade tips and Wade performs well. Wade completes the game and puts in the initials K.R.U. for Kira Rosalind Underwood. Wade looks at the high score tally on the game and the initials K.R.A. have a much higher score. Wade knows that this was Ogden Morrow’s score when he played through for the Second Shard earlier that day. Wade is confused, since there was not anything different about the game. While staring at the screen, he is tapped on the shoulder. It is a recreation of teenage Ogden Morrow.
Wade realizes that he is experiencing the moment when Ogden met Kira. Teenage Ogden congratulates Wade (whose avatar is still Kira Underwood) and has an awkward conversation with her. A digital version of teenage James Halliday interrupts the conversation and demands a ride home from Ogden. Wade recognizes that Halliday was jealous and was trying to sabotage Ogden. The scene fades and Wade is left facing teenage Halliday, who turns into the ninja Kazamaru. Wade defeats him and receives the Second Shard. When he touches it, he is again transported into a real memory from Kira’s life.
Wade, as Kira, receives a necklace from Ogden. Wade knows that Halliday was not present and wonders how he could have programmed the scene so realistically, including the way that Kira felt, which Wade feels through his ONI. A new clue references giving “Andie” a better ending. Wade, Aech, and Shoto figure out that it is a reference to Pretty in Pink. Art3mis appears and Wade tells them about the two flashbacks he has experienced with the shards. The group discusses the possibility that Halliday made a copy of Kira’s brain before her death, so that he could have an AI version of her. The first ONI was created two years after her death, so Halliday would have had to scan her brain some other way. The group plans to head to the planet Shermer, Illinois.
Wade, Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto teleport to a train station on the planet Shermer, dedicated to the filmmaker John Hughes. Art3mis takes the lead because she knows the most about John Hughes. The NPCs and locations on Shermer loop the same events day after day: various scenes from John Hughes’s movies. When they travel to a new location, various 1980s songs start playing around them. Art3mis leads them through a suburban neighborhood where they board a school bus and travel to Shermer High School. Wade and Art3mis share a romantic moment on the bus ride, recalling earlier conversations that they have had. Wade remembers that his only other trip to Shermer was on a date with Art3mis. Art3mis warns them that the school is more dangerous than it appears, and they should not touch anything.
Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto travel through the digital recreation of Shermer High School, surrounded by NPC recreations of characters from all of John Hughes’s movies. Aech expresses displeasure over the lack of ethnic diversity. The group locates Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald’s character from Pretty in Pink). After Andie has a conversation with Duckie (also from Pretty in Pink), Andie goes to class. Art3mis attacks the Duckie NPC and cuts off his head. Wade, Aech, and Shoto are shocked. Art3mis explains that in the film, Duckie was not a good match for Andie, and Kira Morrow had the same opinion. Wade, Aech, and Shoto are still confused, but they follow her out of the school. Aech receives a call from her partner, Endira, and Shoto expresses a desire to call his wife, Kiki. Wade and Art3mis agree to go on without them. Art3mis leads Wade to a wealthy neighborhood where each house has a wild party going on. She instructs Wade to find the NPCs Max and Ian from the film Weird Science, who will be at one of the parties.
Art3mis calls Wade and tells him that she has found Max and Ian. Wade joins her and she lets Max go but holds Ian at gunpoint. Wade notices that Ian is played by Robert Downey, Jr. Art3mis tells Wade that the original Pretty in Pink script had Robert Downey, Jr. playing the role of Duckie and that he was supposed to end up with Andie. Wade and Art3mis convince Ian to dress in Duckie’s clothes and go to the prom to find Andie. The three steal a car and drive toward the prom. While talking about 80s trivia, Wade realizes that he still loves Art3mis. “More than a Feeling” by Boston starts playing. Art3mis says it was triggered from Wade staring at her for too long with his heart rate increasing. Wade is embarrassed. When they arrive at the Shermer hotel, where the prom is being held, Ian does not want to go inside. Wade suggests that they find the original script to the movie and give it to Ian, to show him what to do. Art3mis agrees and kisses Wade. They instruct Ian to wait and head to John Hughes’s recreated residence.
Art3mis and Wade find the house that belongs to a cameo character that John Hughes played. They meet an NPC version of John Hughes. They ask him for his favorite draft of Pretty in Pink that contains the original ending. He hands them a typed manuscript. On the way out, Wade notices that the keyboard from Weird Science is hanging from the back of the door, and the letters K, I, R and A are missing. Wade tells Art3mis that it could be a message from Ogden Morrow, who played through this quest before them. Morrow could be telling them that Halliday did create a digital copy of Kira.
Wade sends a message to L0hengrin and asks that she investigate the Middletown, OH planet and try to find the instance of the town that Ogden Morrow completed the quest on, looking for anything out of place. Art3mis and Wade deliver the manuscript to Ian. Ian goes into the hotel and dances with Andie. They fuse together, to form the Third Shard. Wade picks it up and experiences another flashback. Again, he is Kira Underwood. It is just after her senior year in England and Ogden Morrow has come to bring her back to the United States, liberating her from her abusive stepfather. Instead of a new clue, the Third Shard contains a logo for Halcydonia, the planet of educational games where Wade spent much of his childhood.
Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto teleport to a tree house on Halcydonia. Wade explains that he had a nervous breakdown here when he was eleven, just after his mother had overdosed on heroin. He had spent all his free time on Halcydonia, learning and interacting with characters from children’s shows. Art3mis comforts Wade, as it is obvious that returning is emotionally difficult for him. Wade tells the group not to engage any NPCs, or they might have to solve educational puzzles to continue.
Once on the main road, Wade sings to summon the Great Space Coaster. He flies everyone to Queen Itsalot’s castle. Outside the castle, there is a 1949 Buick Roadmaster. Sitting in it are Tom Cruise’s and Dustin Hoffman’s characters from the film Rain Man. Wade states that Cruise and Hoffman are out of place, since the film was R-rated. Wade speaks to the Queen and, having already completed every quest on Halcydonia as a child, receives the Fourth Shard with little effort. When he grabs the shard, he experiences a short flashback as Kira Morrow, showing her husband Ogden Morrow the logo that she has drawn for Halcydonia. The Fourth Shard has the Love Symbol #2 on it, telling the group that they must travel to Afterworld, the planet dedicated to the artist known as Prince. Before travelling, the group receives a message that they must return to the conference room to talk to Faisal.
Back in the conference room, Faisal braces Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto for more bad news. Faisal tells them that Anorak has started to change the behavior of NPCs in the OASIS. All the NPCs in sectors one through four have become homicidal and started attacking users whenever possible. After collecting the users’ possessions and money, they deliver it to Anorak on Chthonia. Faisal opens a vidscreen that shows a long line of NPCs that walk forward and deposit all the looted items before Anorak’s throne. Anorak looks through the items, and then each NPC is changed into an “Acolyte of Anorak.” Nolan Sorrento’s avatar stands nearby.
Shoto notes that it appears Anorak is looking for something in particular. Faisal then tells the group that when users with ONI rigs die in the OASIS, they do not respawn and do not wake up in the real world. They are stuck in some sort of coma. Wade knows that he needs Ogden Morrow. He goes back through the clues that were left for him and figures out that Morrow was trying to point him toward a specific address that Morrow still owns. The group believes that Morrow is being held there. Wade calls L0hengrin. L0hengrin, Rizzo, Wukong, Lilith, and Kastagir teleport to the conference room.
L0hengrin tells Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto that she and her friends (the L0w Five) searched the various instances of Middletown, OH. They eventually found another instance that had its date changed to 1989. L0hengrin presents Wade with a notebook that they found in the basement. It is a Dungeons & Dragons module, written by Kira Underwood as a teenager, titled The Quest for the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul. The module has adventure details and a final battle with an evil wizard named Hagmar. There is also a note about collecting the Seventh Shard by presenting the first six shards to a shrine in Chthonia. Lohengrin also presents a note from Ogden Morrow about a sword named the Dorkslayer that was designed to kill Anorak if he ever became corrupted.
Everyone discusses the possibility that Ogden Morrow created the Dorkslayer in the OASIS before quitting GSS. L0hengrin volunteers the L0w Five to find the sword while Wade and his friends collect the remaining shards. Wade tells them that he is formulating a plan, but they will still need the shards. Art3mis tells them that she is joining the security team that is about to try to free Ogden Morrow in the real world. Wade apologizes to her before she logs out, and she tells him that “there is still hope for you yet.” Wade’s ONI timer tells him that he has two hours twenty-eight minutes left. Aech teleports Wade and Shoto to Afterworld.
Wade, Aech, and Shoto arrive on Afterworld, the planet dedicated to Prince Rogers Nelson. Aech leads them to the digital recreation of Paisley Park, Prince’s “home and creative compound.” They examine the Fourth Shard again, and it shows a series of Prince symbols, a “V” and a stylized clock. Aech tells them that they have been given a “suicide mission.” She believes that they must battle the seven different NPC incarnations of Prince, which no one has ever done successfully.
Wade and Shoto don’t know much about Prince, so Aech leads them to various locations to find helpful items. Shoto makes a joke about Prince and is struck by a purple lightning bolt that almost kills his avatar. Aech tells Wade how Prince was an inspiration to her and many other sexually confused kids and adults. Aech adds that when Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness, he claimed that being gay was wrong. Wade recognizes that Aech was rejected by her father, her mother, and then eventually by her role model, Prince. Aech thanks Wade for never rejecting her, even when she lied to him about her race and gender. Wade checks his ONI usage timer: he only has one hour and forty-four minutes remaining. Aech leads them on.
Aech leads Wade and Shoto farther into Afterworld. They acquire Prince’s 1958 Corvette and drive to a region full of nightclubs. Before they can enter one of the clubs, Nolan Sorrento’s avatar blocks their path. Sorrento tells them that Art3mis has abandoned them and they will not receive an extension on their time. Wade is pleased that Sorrento is not aware of what Samantha/Art3mis is doing in the real world. After a few threats, Sorrento leaves. Aech leads Wade and Shoto into a club where they compete in a dance contest using the mechanics of Dance Dance Revolution.
Winning the dance contest has given Wade, Aech, and Shoto the assistance of NPC versions of Morris Day and the Time (a band originally created by Prince). Wade, Aech, and Shoto travel in the Corvette, followed by The Time’s tour bus, out into the desert to battle the seven incarnations of Prince. Aech warns them that, depending on the Prince version that they fight, he will be accompanied by his backup band, serving as his henchmen. Aech gives the magical Cloud Guitar that she acquired to Wade and tells him that he must play it like a real guitar, not a video game. Shoto cannot play an instrument, so Aech gives him a tambourine. She tells them that she will be singing. Wade, Aech, and Shoto enter the arena with the original seven members of Morris Day and the Time following them.
Wade, Aech, Shoto, and the members of Morris Day and the Time enter the arena. Seven different versions of Prince arrive and start fighting them. Various backup bands appear, including The Revolution, the New Power Generation, and 3RDEYEGIRL. Aech calls on members of the Time to activate their “producing powers,” and Janet Jackson and the Rhythm Nation are summoned to help. The battle rages with various sonic/music attacks, eventually leaving Wade, Aech, and Shoto against three remaining Princes. Shoto starts exhibiting signs of Synaptic Overload System. His avatar is struck by a purple bolt of lightning and killed.
Aech uses her singing powers and eventually defeats the remaining Princes, who converge to form the Fifth Shard. Wade grabs it and experiences another flashback. He is Kira Morrow on her 40th birthday. Ogden Morrow has arranged for Prince to sing her “Happy Birthday.” When the flashback ends, Wade calls Faisal to check on Shoto. His body is still sleeping, but his brain is connected to the OASIS. He will likely still suffer Synaptic Overload Syndrome. Wade looks at the clue on the Fifth Shard. It references Morgoth, the original villain in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings mythos. Wade knows that Morgoth is one of the most powerful NPCs in all of the OASIS. Wade sees that there are no updates from L0hengrin or Art3mis and teleports with Aech to Arda I, the world dedicated to the First Age of Middle-earth.
Wade and Aech arrive on Arda I near a tranquil lake. Wade does some research and admits that he is not an expert in the First Age of Middle-earth. He equips his avatar with a sword that he earned on Arda III and gives Aech a magical sword as well. Wade then summons two magical horses, for faster travel. Wade and Aech ride toward Morgoth’s fortress in Angband. Aech confronts Wade over his lack of knowledge, and Wade admits that since Art3mis was obsessed with Tolkien, after they broke up, he never returned.
Wade sends Art3mis a message, telling her that they need her help, but he understands if she is too busy saving Ogden. Wade reiterates that Morgoth is the toughest NPC in the entire OASIS, but in one of Tolkien’s books, two characters put him into a magical sleep and steal a jewel from his crown. At the Gates of Angband, Wade and Aech fight Carcharoth, a giant black wolf. Aech’s avatar is killed and Wade collects her items. He fears his own death in the real world, believing that he will also be killed by Carcharoth. Before Carcharoth can finish Wade, Art3mis appears.
Art3mis lands on the ground between Wade and the giant wolf, Carcharoth. Art3mis sings a magical song that puts the wolf to sleep and then heals Wade. Art3mis tells Wade that stealing a jewel from Morgoth’s crown is actually a quest that no user has ever completed. She warns Wade not to take more than one jewel from the crown. Once in the throne room, Art3mis uses another magical sleep spell, and Wade retrieves a jewel from Morgoth’s crown while Morgoth and his minions are sleeping. The two escape Angband and the jewel turns into the Sixth Shard. They are rescued by a pair of giant eagles as the horde of enemies in Angband begins to chase them.
Wade experiences another flashback. He is Kira Morrow, the first time that Ogden revealed the mansion that he built for her in Oregon, which resembles the recreation of Rivendell from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. The clue on the Sixth Shard is a calligraphic letter L that Wade recognizes as Kira’s designation for Leucosia. Wade and Art3mis discuss the possibility that Anorak might be planning to transfer his consciousness (along with Kira/Leucosia’s) to the mini-OASIS simulation, ARC@DIA, which Wade has built on his spaceship, the Vonnegut. Art3mis gives Wade access to a robot that is going to be used to save Ogden Morrow before she logs out. Wade teleports himself to Chthonia to seek the Siren’s Shrine.
Wade teleports to Chthonia and finds the Shrine of Leucosia. He places the six shards that he has collected into the Shrine and it gives him the Seventh Shard. When he touches it, there is another flashback. He is Kira Morrow, sitting in a chair at the Accessibility Research Lab at GSS. Halliday is explaining to her that he has created a device that will let people access the OASIS with their mind. He puts a helmet on her head, a predecessor to the ONI, and tells her that it needs to calibrate. Wade knows that he is scanning her brain. Wade returns to his avatar on Chthonia.
Wade wonders what it must have been like for Halliday to program each of the shards and memories of Kira and Ogden, where Halliday was “the brilliant-but-clueless friend whom they both tolerated out of pity.” Wade wonders if Halliday chose the memories to punish himself. Anorak appears nearby and congratulates Wade. He promises to release everyone in exchange for the Soul, created from the unified shards. Wade retrieves seven magical shards from his inventory, but they are counterfeits that the GSS programmers have created at Wade’s request. They have the same appearance and magical aura as the real shards. Wade combines them and hands the result to Anorak. Together, the fake shards have formed an item of Wade’s design, the Jewel of Acquisition. It allows Wade to take any item from the inventory of whoever takes the Jewel. Wade takes back the Robes of Anorak and teleports to the study in Castle Anorak where the Big Red Button is.
Wade’s avatar teleports into the study in Castle Anorak. Wade goes through the sequence that reveals the Big Red Button. Anorak appears outside the window of the study, and Wade tells him that if he does not let everyone go, he will press the button, destroying the OASIS, Anorak, and the Leucosia Shards, despite the consequences. Anorak tries to plead with Wade, but Wade closes the window shutters. Wade signals Art3mis/Samantha in the real world. Wade then activates the robot controller in his inventory and takes control of a military robot outside of Ogden Morrow’s old mansion. Miles, the security chief, and Samantha are each controlling a robot on site. They force their way into the mansion and find Ogden in a hospital bed, with Nolan Sorrento standing over him. Another military robot, controlled by Anorak, is also in the room.
Sorrento demands that Anorak grant him his revenge. Anorak’s robot shoots Sorrento in the head, killing him. Sorrento’s death triggers a swarm of robots to attack them. Miles, Wade, and Samantha use their robots to get Ogden outside into an ambulance. They are pursued by robots. Wade activates the armored, robotic spider that he uses to protect his ONI rig and saves Samantha and Ogden. Wade tells Samantha that he needs Ogden to log into the OASIS as soon as he recovers. Miles has been killed. Wade states he will try to stall Anorak, but he is starting to experience Synaptic Overload Syndrome.
Wade talks to Anorak through the window of the study. Anorak tells Wade that if he pushes the button, everyone connected with an ONI headset will die, including Wade. Anorak and Wade discuss Halliday’s digital recreation of Kira, and how because it did not love Halliday back, he put it into the shards. Anorak shows Wade a letter that Halliday wrote to Ogden Morrow, just before his death, telling him about the shards and that Morrow could get his wife back. Halliday apologizes in the letter, for copying Kira’s brain and for being a terrible friend. Anorak admits that all the users whose avatars have died are actually safe, including Shoto and Aech. Anorak wanted hostages but did not want to hurt anyone. Wade sees a blur behind Anorak. Wade challenges Anorak to a duel, to prove who is Halliday’s rightful heir. Halliday agrees, seeing that Wade is already suffering from Synaptic Overload Syndrome. Wade smiles, revealing that he never said who Anorak would have to fight. The Great and Powerful Og (Ogden Morrow’s avatar) appears behind Anorak.
Anorak is surprised that Ogden is still alive. Anorak and the Great and Powerful Og fight across Chthonia using their superpowers. Art3mis appears and tries to help Og, but Anorak destroys her with a single attack. Eventually, L0hengrin appears and gives Og the Dorkslayer, but her avatar is also killed by Anorak. Og slices Anorak in half. Wade says that Anorak kept his word: all the users are logged out, and everyone who was in a coma is released. Wade passes out. Wade wakes up to see Faisal and Samantha in his hospital room. Aech and Shoto are on live vidscreens. Samantha tells him that Ogden Morrow has died from his injuries, but he told her to give Wade a message. Ogden wanted Wade to bring Kira back in the OASIS and let her decide if she wanted to exist or be destroyed. Wade jumps out of his hospital bed and runs to the nearest OASIS headset in the hospital. He tells Samantha to log back in, and then he will use the Robes of Anorak to resurrect her avatar. Wade logs back in, planning to combine the Seven Shards.
Wade logs back into the OASIS. He resurrects the avatars of Art3mis, Aech, Shoto, L0hengrin, and the other members of the L0w Five. Wade gives everyone coordinates to the Shrine of Leucosia and assembles the shards. An AI version of Kira Underwood appears and gives Wade the Rod of Resurrection. She tells Wade that he can use it to create an AI digital copy of anyone who has ever used an ONI headset. Wade brings back Ogden Morrow, who is reunited with Kira. Wade lets Samantha use the Rod to bring back her grandmother. Wade and the L0w Five discuss how Anorak was dangerous because he was a corrupted version of Halliday’s mind (since Halliday had tried to tamper with his memory). They are unsure if the world is ready for AI constructs to exist in the OASIS, especially after what Anorak did. The AI copies of Kira, Ogden and Samantha’s grandmother are uploaded to ARC@DIA on the Vonnegut.
In the epilogue, Wade reveals that he has narrated the story as an AI copy of Wade that has also been uploaded to ARC@DIA, along with digital copies of Samantha, Aech, Shoto, Endira, and Kiki. Their ship has set off toward Proxima Centauri in search of a habitable planet. ARC@DIA contains an ark of mankind’s achievements and cultures, digital backups of every ONI user, and frozen embryos. The AI constructs keep in touch with their counterparts on Earth. Back on Earth, Wade and Samantha are married and Wade is looking forward to being a parent.