/N

This was a tough one to write. I did my best to match back the style of the Novel, but use more relevant and up to date content like they did in the movie, as well as throw in a number of other references to things that are considered geek culture but failed to make it in to the movie for whatever reasons. Enjoy the nearly missed connection below.

Ready Player One: - Missed Connections.

You hear a lot of assertions about love. How the universe is a cruel, heartless place. That true love doesn't always work out. Love does actually or does not actually exist. Connections get missed. Mistakes made. Stupidity interjects itself and then the cold unfeeling…sensation of "you done fucked up" grabs you by the neck, cuts off your air, and squeezes your heart until it turns to a pulp. And your brain registers what you've let slip through your fingers. Then proceeds to beat you over the head, for weeks. For the less fortunate, maybe its months. For the damned unlucky bastards, its years. I figure I'm one of those less fortunate ones.

Looking back, I realize that she didn't just get away from me once, I missed her, three times. I guess, you could call this entire experience my personal Tomb of Horrors.

We met just after the Clans brought down the shield that guarded the entrance to the Tomb of Horrors on Ludus. Our eyes met across that scorched, glassed ground and she gave me – at least I think she did – the slightest, most imperceptible of nods. All I remember was that smile, those golden eyes that flashes in the sunlight and the mane of fittingly burned copper colored hair that flared out behind her. There was that something about her, that "je-ne sais-quoi," of valor, grace and presence.

We somehow wound up behind a wrecked something or other, and were using it for cover. What was left of IOI's Suxors were holed behind the few barricades they had, laying down a paint blistering barrage of firepower. I found myself thinking that my 27 levels were not enough for this kind of thing. That I'd have to continue the climb towards 99 when this particular fracas was done with.

Her combat armor – reminded me of something out of Fallout 4 or the first Starship Troopers movie maybe. The armor was battered and scarred – at least it looked that way. And from the way she could move and shoot, it was clear that she'd seen more than her fair share of scrapes and battles around the OASIS. The rifle she wielded was something else entirely. An iconic piece of gaming history brought to life: - The C-14 "Impaler" Gauss Rifle with Ultra Capacitor upgrade, complete with universal under barrel grenade launcher, and a tertiary magrail munitions launcher. That weapon, still is the work of some master craftsman somewhere. and definitely qualifies as Gun Porn.

Now at this point, everyone KNOWS what porn is. But let me tell you, when she hefted that N6A3 Fragmentation Grenade, and gave me that wild-cat smile, that showed a hint of feline canine teeth. That moment, was to me, incredibly suggestively pornographic. Then, came the actual Grenade Porn. The air bent into a visible bubble of concussive force, an expanding shockwave that sent weapons and gear flying as Suxor asses hit the ground. There was a half-second of quiet, everything floating away gently from the epicenter of the grenade. Then a "pop!" Fire and shrapnel dissolve the air and everything else. The smoke hadn't cleared when she moved. I exhaled and followed her charge. Pretty impressive work. But I think one of my meteor spell would have rained down awe inspiring and terrifying destruction just as well.

It was only after we were in the Tomb, discovered it was a No PvP zone and had navigated our way to the Throne Room did we realize that there were hundreds now battling the Demi Lich for a copy of the Copper Key. By all accounts, the High-Five had done it, which means I could too. Besides, Joust was a game I OWNED!

It was only a few hours later did I realize three things: – I had my copy of the Copper key. I knew where to go next to play Dungeons of Daggorath on a "Trash-80." Most importantly, I'd lost track of my canine fanged, copper haired Gunter associate. Suddenly, I was more interested in finding her, than I was of winning Halliday's contest. I never got a contact card, or a name. But I figured she was in the Clan. So, there were only twenty or thirty thousand people, and some image recognition software should help me track her down. Right?

"Incredible," I muttered to myself, even as I back tracked through the Tomb, "Survive one firefight with the girl. Don't even know her name. Assume she's also a Raptor. Assume she's… got the same interest and preferences as you. Focus damnit!"

I'd go on to "play" WarGames, teach a super computer how to play chess, save the world from a thermonuclear war, and earn my copy of the Jade Key. The 'Raptors ruled the low 60s to 110s on the scoreboard. I felt like I'd missed something more valuable, more important than the billions of credits. Maybe there was a crossed wire or short circuit with something in my brain. Maybe. But I guess…you could say it was a missed connection. With her or my brain you're asking? Good Question. At that point, I had no idea.

I put her out of my mind pretty damn quick, once I started trying to figure out the Jade Key Riddle. I'd spend weeks at it, and wind up going to some forgotten corners of the OASIS looking for clues or more specifically the "dwelling long neglected." I wound up in Sectors 22, 14, 3, and 8 and wasted a lot of time and energy for precisely nothing. I also spent the long journeys have having imaginary conversations in the long-neglected dwelling of my brain, with a female Gunter whom I felt existed, sometimes as a figment of my imagination. I kept playing back that missed connection on Ludus. I should have gotten her name at least, or contact card, or even just added her as a friend or something. Talk about missed trophies huh?

Months later, when the Suxor fleet started to hightail it to Sector 7, every Gunters on the Grid followed them. Some were after The Egg. Others, like me, knew we didn't have the Halliday Lore down enough to stay in the race, but I didn't give up hope, because like every Gunter on the grid, the chase isn't over till it's over. And it was far from over.

By the time I got there, the shooting war was already in full swing. Both sides were throwing everything they had at each other, including the kitchen sink trying to breakthrough or prevent a breakthrough on the Suxor imposed orbital blockade. Their blockade was more holes than blocks to be honest – courtesy of The Key Masters who spent more time killing Suxors than actually hunting for the egg. They took out large chunks of the blockade with the expediency of high grade thermonuclear warheads, with a splattering of photon and quantum plasma weapons to clean up whatever survived in orbit. The battle in space lasted for several long days from what I heard. By the time it was over, I was long gone. I'd say that the Gunters won the space war.

I bypassed most of that by slipping my own small ship through the wreckage while rival fleets continued to pound on each other with naval artillery, torpedoes, boarding actions and counter-boarding actions. Sure, my ship is small, and perhaps one of the most underrated designs to ever come out of Sci-Fi, but the "Betty" – I'd never even bothered renaming her – is as weather beaten, ugly and patched together as they come, but she's a damn sight tougher than she looks. Betty is that underdog scrappy brawler with an ego problem and an attitude to fight dirty and kick you in the crotch repeatedly before she goes down. Funny how that could describe Ellen Ripley in the same movie that my ship comes from.

I was so far behind on the Hunt by now, it wasn't even funny. Word had leaked pretty quick on to Gunterpedia on how to get the Jade Key by playing Zork at any one of the recreations of Halliday's hometown on Frobozz. I found it amusing that there was a walkthrough available on how to get a Jade Key, which I admit to using. I'm a Gunter. Not a Saint. Leave that kind of gaming purity to the High-Five.

Most of time, I let Cortana – Yes that's the sentient AI slash companion AI that runs a lot of things for me straight from the HALO Series of decades gone by – do the flying and driving and the Betty made a low pass over the currently "front line" to strafe the hell out of suxor positions with guns, rockets, lasers and missiles, wiping out four gun nests and a couple of dozen Suxors. Cortana deployed a couple of drones to sweep up whatever coins and gear the Suxors dropped on death – spoils of war.

I'm a purist of a weird sort. For personal combat, I don't like guns due to the ammo requirements, and I hate high-tech cybernetic hardware mostly because it needs a fuel cell or power cell. But I'd still take a "modern" spacecraft any day of the week over a magic powered space barge – don't get me wrong – The Betty does have an aftermarket backup system in case I fly in to a no-tech zone.

Magic biggest limitation is range. Sniper rifles always outdistance magic, and have definitely got a much higher rate of accuracy. But in this case, with my walkthrough in a corner of my HUD, I had no problems getting through the house, grabbing the sword and torch and heading down in to the basement of the dwelling long neglected, grabbing my 19 treasures and depositing them all at once. A blow of a whistle and I had a Jade Key in my hand. It had taken me way too long to get through the "simple" game of Zork – almost 40 minutes. Truth be told, my focus had shifted away from winning the Hunt, the moment I'd met her. It was a one sided thing. It really was at that point. My crushing hard on this Gunter who I'd spent maybe a grand total of twenty minutes with.

But yea. I was no longer chasing the money, or the fame or the power, or ownership and control of the OASIS. I was chasing a…something…a dream… a dream of love, where I was literally hoping against all the odds in the OASIS.

The Betty was on the deck, her ramp down with her cloak still engaged. I was about to board when I heard the explosion of gunfire. There was a war whoop and then she was suddenly, inexplicably THERE. Well, not exactly there as she combat-rolled over the hedge, and took cover, and sent two grenades back the way she had just come. The dull crumps were split seconds apart, and my heart stopped for a moment. Then a scream and the silence. "Cortana?" I whispered.

"Photo recognition and facial matching completed. Match at 97% and 96%. Well within tolerances." Cortana was sounding incredibly smug. I could understand the lack of a 100% match. Her gear had changed, and more importantly, so had her hair color. Instead of the vibrant copper rust red of that first fateful meeting, it was now the deepest of greens, strangely enough, it was the same color as the key now sitting in my inventory.

I found myself wondering what in the world to say, that would sound suave, and confident. I think she actually recognized me in those few moments, when I gave her a tentative half smile before the roaring of jets drowned out any possibility of conversation. Maybe the incoming blaster fire had something to do with that also.

I blinked and she'd swapped the Impaler for an L23 Fareye, aimed down the scope and fired. The bullet punched through the chest and jump pack of the descending Suxor and took a second Suxor in the neck. I don't know if she lined up that shot on purpose or not, but it was still a demonstration of skill – she'd taken aim, fired and killed two Suxors while standing up, absorbed the recoil of the shot and picked off a third in the few seconds I stood there gaping at her, "A little help please?" she asked.

I was snap casting fireballs and lightning from my wand – I found the Potterverse over in Sector 3 and just fell in love with the magic, the casting and the wand lore. Fortunately, I'd never gone full Potterhead. I think that's an unwritten Oasis rule: - Never go full anything. No lightning bolt scars. But I definitely earned my acceptance letter to Hogwarts that sunny afternoon as I switched from combat casting to transfiguration and basic animation. The wall of earth and soil would buy us a few minutes. I figured I could just apparate to the Betty and get out of here, but that would mean leaving her on her own.

She was looking, almost longingly at the dwelling long neglected with this hunger in her eyes. I knew that hunger. I'd had it in me not to long ago. Now… now I was feeling something a lot different. I decided, and it was the right thing to do. Never mind being first to the Key, or first to the Egg. It just didn't sit right to abandon a fellow Gunter to the mercies of the Suxors, who were closing in from every direction. "Get the key!" I told her, as I started waving my wand, setting up some wards to strengthen the earthy barrier before overlaying her own shields with one of my own. "I'll cover you."

She looked at me like I'd grown a second head then nodded and made a dash towards the house. She moved, drawing fire. I retaliated with pinpoint casting: - Piercing charms to the neck and chest, a wide area cutting hex, followed up with a chain of series of blasting curses. Just to keep their heads down.

Several bullets pinged off my shields, taking away some of their protection, but nothing had even hit my armor yet. That was the great thing about the OASIS. You could mix and match and layer all kinds of things together, and I'd come up with a custom setup that not only looked, good, but also gave me a ridiculous amount of protection for a lowly level 45 like me.

Smoke charms, and I followed that up with the magical equivalent of Flash Bangs. Blind, deaf and definitely stunned, I polished off the remaining half a dozen Suxors in less than ten seconds with overpowered spells. Several drones deployed from the Betty and collected the items and equipment that had not been fired, and dropped once. I'd sell whatever I could not use – probably most of it, given the Suxors preference for guns, swords, and body armor.

Suxor reinforcements were at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes away. I hoped she would be quick. I turned the entire front lawn, most of the street and airspace over the house in to a nasty surprise, helping pass a handful of minutes before settling down to do the unpleasant waiting, in that calm before the storm as it were, that left me edgy and twitchy. My mind wandered all over the damned place. Wondering about this and that, and mostly wondering how she was doing in there.

I groaned to myself: - I still didn't know her name.

The Suxors came, tried the same Death from Above drop tactic. Only half the ten-man squad made it to the ground. Three were vaporized when they tripped the Wards I'd set. One was mired down in the swamp that activated the moment his feet touched the asphalt of the road. The last managed to rattle off a full clip that breached my shields, before being stopped by my armor. While I took some damage from that, my frost nova turned him into anicicle, before he shattered in to diamond dust.

Combat remained a low intensity affair for the moment. I could hear gunfire in the distance. The mixed sounds of artillery, railguns, what sounded like plasma blasters in the mix as well. A few more Suxors wound up flamed to a crisp, frozen and shattered, or cooked apart in lightning strikes.

It took twenty-one minutes before she emerged from the dwelling long neglected wearing an idiotic smile on her face. "I got it!"

"Great!" I replied with a smile of my own, "How you getting out of here?"

"My ship is…" There was an explosion from somewhere above us and we looked up, just in time to see a Quinjet – straight out of the Avengers - get perforated in a hail of angry red laser bolts by a pair of X-Wings and a TIE Interceptor.

"Was that…" I asked.

"Yeah," she replied. We both ducked. Her ship crash landed in the backyard of the house, gouging a half kilometer long scar in to the earth as it disintegrated in a series of explosions followed moments later by the sharp detonation of its power core. They came through the fireball this time, and I had to give their pilot credit as the V-35 Ox Transport came head on with its aftermarket guns blazing as Suxors descended on jump packs.

I was done playing – I think we both were. I cut loose, both wands blazing a mix of Elementalists, and various destructor and devastation spells. She took a moment and then let rip with a Lancer Mk II Assault Rifle in one hand, and a Covenant Plasma Pistol in the other as she spun out, cutting left before faking right and coming around with a hail of bullets and bolts. Where mine was area of effect, hers was pinpoint precision. And we somehow complimented each other pretty well, able to cover and predict each other and the enemy with surprising ease.

My shields took a hammering, - damned Suxors could hit a target in the open at least, and my hit point counter had fallen to half. But the field was clear and we had owned it, and every Suxor that came our way.

"Cortana, prep for dust off." I ordered. I paused halfway up the ramp of the Betty and paused dramatically as I turned to her with a Cheshire cat grin, "Come with me if you want to live."

She laughed. It was a rambunctious and hearty laugh that was a mix of a lack of restraint, together with bright and bubbly something - that je-ne-sais-quoi factor I've alluded to before was there again. She shrugged and followed me up the ramp, and I swear, that my heart that I three-sixty backflip in my chest.

The Betty's shields took a pounding, and some hull damage, but we made our escape without getting in to another firefight, as we jumped to lightspeed and left Frobozz behind us. But at least I – we both had our keys.

She could flirt and tease, like no other, and I think she knew she had me. I'm convinced that she knew she had me. I headed us over to an NPC operated garage in Sector 10 to get the necessary repair work. I think we talked non-stop during the course of that flight and then again in the diner attached to Joes. Movies, Games, about what we do if we won the contest, and then a bit our real selves, as in who we are in the real world.

Obviously, she was a Gunter but an avowed solo. She didn't hold that against me, just like I didn't have anything against working with a Solo. There were some out there that took offense to Clans, and vice versa. But if there was one thing all Gunters could agree on, it was that IOI and the Suxors were the single greatest threat to the OASIS and that they could not be allowed to win. We, as in Gunters, are the Underdogs. We want to win, to make the world a better place. The World, not the OASIS. There's a big difference there.

I personally think that this was what made the annual "86-the-6ers" such a widely attended event, with massive prizes given out to everyone the 86es at least five Suxors during the annual month long event. I've participated in it, and in those early days, made enough in credits and gear from that event to set myself up quite comfortably in the OASIS. The real world, is another thing entirely though, and not really relevant to this tale of missed connections.

Our conversations went well, and I was as suave and smooth as I wished I ever could be. There was something about her that pushed my buttons, and I liked it. I had her laughing, her sarcastic wit and dry humor at odds with the cheerful bubbly personality. But I think I made a mistake, a big one, when I asked for her contact card, so that we could keep in touch.

Everything did a complete 1-80 so fast, it would have been impossible for anyone to fall, crash, and burn as hard as I did in those few moments. Where there had been some warmth, openness, a sense of connection over a shared quest, there was suddenly guarded, cool distance. Then I compounded my mistake, by offer her my Contact Card.

That was a huge mistake that I've gone and made…. Maybe… I'd get a chance to fix it, I thought when I offered her my Contact Card. Her words cut like daggers to the heart at that point, almost whispered as she logged out, "I'll wave to you from the finish line."

I was pissed at that point. No idea who I was more pissed off at that point. But I'd say I was mad at myself for blowing that opportunity. That was twice, TWICE I'd let her slip away. I'll be fair and say that the first time…. Well…. That was the first time. This, second chance, I'd blown it, missed the connection again!

I tore apart the nearest clone of the Tyrell Building I could find, incinerating, freezing, crushing, cutting, and burning my way through the army of replicant morons whose puny little sidearms barely put a dent in my constantly regenerating shields.

Jumping through the gate created by the Voight-Kampff machine was easy enough, and I managed to get through, living through the replay of the Eight Dungeon of Black Tiger, but I didn't make it. I did make it all the way to the boss, the Black Dragon but I didn't have the health, extra lives, or bluntly put, the skill to defeat it.

To be honest, my mind wasn't really on the game at all. My mind was still on her. Whoever she was, right up to the moment I was spat back out of the Second Gate and in to the same meeting room. The quest was over for me. The Egg. The money, the power and all that. It was over. I didn't have the skill to beat the gate. I damn sure didn't have the skill with the ladies either – proof in my most recent crash and burn.

I spent days depressed, and moping around the OASIS. I went all over the place, killing and questing – both to prevent myself from thinking, over thinking everything that had happened. I picked up some minor artifacts – nothing too special I guess. Picked up a few interesting weapons and toys that I just threw up for auction.

I had to keep busy, otherwise my overthinking went down some very creepy paths that I didn't want to consider of think about. Mainly that I was in love, or having a massive cyber-crush on an Avatar. So, there was no telling what she really looked like under there. Blond. Brunette. Redhead. I mean her body was unique. I mean her shape and figure of her – and hopefully her avatar – were real – at least I hoped that they were real. She wasn't something waisted porn-starlet or muscle bound Amazonian warrior princess. She had curves and all that, but she looked and felt real. Like a real person.

Of course, the darker, more twisted part of mind had taken this appropriate moment of my fantasy-filled musings to remind me it was very possible that whoever she was, was not even a girl, but a GUY. That thought brought everything to a screeching halt. Then the dark side of my brain started filling in the many, varied, disturbing details that included things like the name "Chuck," a morbidly obese 70,000lbs, living in his mother's basement, spanking the money to some weird fetish porn… you get the idea….

Admittedly, despite those thoughts, a part of me continued to wonder, continue to dream, dared to hope, that I'd get another chance to make it right. That chance came, a few weeks later. A Hail-Mary one in a million chance.

Truth be told, I never got the mail that Parzival sent out. I figure my spam filters blocked it out, and by the time I'd though to check it had been deleted. But it was hard to miss when every news stream, channel and wire on the net went balls out ballistic. I'd at first thought the whole thing was a giant joke of some kind – who trusts the "corporate" news anyway when IOI most of them lock, stock, barrel and by the balls anyway?

But when I checked the POV channels, and saw that Parzival's was broadcasting the same thing over and over. That Art3miss's blog and her POV - Art3mivision - most recent posting contained the same thing as well as her own heartfelt plea to every single follower. The "Daishow" was just looping the Call to Arms.

It's no secret I'm in a clan, but what makes a clan work is not hard and fast rules, more a case of democracy by proxy. The leadership can make whatever decisions they want to make, but it's our willingness to follow those decisions that meant that there was even a Clan to begin with. I think Wheaton got it right, when he issued his own directive to all Clan Members: - Answering the High-Five's Call to Arms, or not, was an individual choice. He of course, stated that he was going to fight.

At this point in the game, everyone knew where the Third Gate was located. The Suxors had lead everyone there anyway when they had literally deployed everything they had to barricade the crap out of Anorak's Castle. Funnily enough, it seems that I was right, all those years ago, when I started this mad quest that Anorak's Castle would feature in this quest. One of the few things that I did get right I suppose. But then again, that's like say with full confidence "Water is wet."

It was a going to be the event of a lifetime. Literally, life changing, once in lifetime. The call had gone out and nearly everyone on the grid was responding. Whether people were coming to fight, or to setup tents and just watch this gigantically, enormous cluster fuck unfold, I have no idea. But I'd taken the time to prepare and plan for the small part I would play in what would be the ultimate Team Deathmatch. Ever, for the heart, soul and I suppose, spirit of the OASIS.

I entertained a fantasy that I would find her there, and we'd be able to take on the Suxor army and win. A realistic part of my brain told me she would more than likely be there. The down to earth part of my head said that even if she was there, what were the odds of me finding her amidst hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Avatars? The pessimist in me…. Let's not go there.

I got there, almost too late. I got to the battle zone within minutes of Parzival's arrival. And I had gotten smart here. I had Cortana park Betty in a geosynchronous orbit and then apparated myself down to the surface of Chthonia. That put me smack in the middle of an ocean of Gunters, with an almost equal number of single digit level Avatars. It seemed like everyone had turned up to witness this battle, though I was still worried about just how many of those single digit newbies would actually fight, and how many would freeze up and literally die their first time in actual combat.

I could hear Parzival and Sorento throw down with words, both of them using whatever voice amplifiers and relays so that everyone, literally everyone here, and watching from home would be able to see and hear the words exchanged.

Everyone knows the highlights of the battle. The way the two exchanged words, Sorrento activating Mechagodzilla. Everyone knows that in the opening moments of the battle, how the amount of firepower unleashed, made it impossible for the Suxors to form Voltron in seconds after the Orb of Osuvox shield went down. Everyone knows how Shoto damaged Mechagodzilla. How Parzival used the Beta Capsule and proceeded to stomp Sorrento's mech, then vaporize him. Everyone knows what happened next.

What everyone doesn't know, of course, is what happened in my small corner of the world. When both sides were done talking, the mecha summoned, I know the exact moment, Parzival screamed, "First to the Key!" it was 11:59:55. The shield dropped five seconds later at precisely noon.

There was maybe a second of stunned silence from everyone, on both sides, everyone, trying desperately to process the fact that the shield was down. For the Suxors, I think they realized they were the Suxors. For everyone else, it was the chance to make the Suxors pay for signing their souls over to IOI.

I don't know where it started from, but I remember hearing it start with only a few disparate voices throughout the mob of Gunters. It started like a whisper, but in moments, it grew. In volume. In intensity. In bloody minded conviction as everyone roared back with one voice. We roared, that we would not go silently. We would not surrender. We would die trying. We roared with one voice, and vowed the IOI was going down. We roared, "First to the Egg!" and charged.

That was the moment, that I knew every Gunter, every single Avatar did not come here to watch the fight. They had come here to fight.

Even as the long-range weaponry lit off – rockets, missiles, artillery – on both sides, I chuckled as Sorceresses, Mages, and wizards added meteors, lightning storms, and barrages of magic. Over it all blaring from speakers, boomboxes, and coming in over the general chat links was the heavy bass of drums. Any Gunter worth the title of Gunter recognized those opening drumbeats: - "We're not gonna take it." Twisted Sister, from "Stay Hungry," released in 1984.

It was the music of the battle, the war of my generation, the OASIS generation. And I started to sing as magic streamed from my fingertips. Explosive fire, bolts of lightning, potent winds and frigid icicles hammer Suxors as they ducked, milled about or desperately tried to find cover in the confusion. Some of them hand shields that buckled under the assault before being blasted, hurled and generally rent asunder. The shockwave of such high-powered magic lifted others and hurled them away.

Somewhere ahead of me, I heard a female voice, raised to a shout, a war scream that was the thunder of a storm, "Charge!" She was waving a Harkonnen anti-tank rifle in the air, one handed, and rushed forward at the point of the spear.

The myriad colors "Army of the Oasis" clashed with the hideous black chitin clad Suxors of IOI, and the black chitin tide broke upon the charging Army like water upon an ocean cliff. Dozens were hurled back on both sides as Avatars impacted the Suxors. The screeching dull roar of the Harkonnen anti-tank rifle horribly violated the sound barrier as a line of Suxors collapsed like puppets with their strings cut. Riflemen and gunners fell back, raising weapons and hunting for targets as the remainder charge in, steel on steel, blade to blunt weapon. Cries of victory, pain, and the sharp metallic clinking of coins, the dull thump of weapons and equipment striking the ground echoed as Avatars and Suxors fell. Were in not for the nature of defeated Avatars to vanish, the sheer press of bodies would have held the dead upright.

The madness of the free-for-all lasted for at least 10 minutes, before I was able to draw alongside her. In that brief moment of respite, I channeled and hurled a bolt of lightning and sent three Suxors trying to flank her flying through the air. I don't know where they landed. Somewhere painful I hoped. Good riddance.

Cortana was still chirping away in my left ear, informing that her Combat Jacket was something out of a Sci-Fi movie "Edge of Tomorrow," but that it had been extensively customized to increase the protection it afforded as well as add on a ridiculous number of weapons hardpoints. She had discarded the Harkonnen after emptying it six shot magazine and was wading into the thick of things with the Lancer MK II, shooting as well as making liberal use of the mounted chainsaw to hack, slice and chop her way through unfortunately Suxors foolish enough to try to engage her in a melee.

Occasionally she would draw the Halo Plasma Pistol and crack of several shots at more heavily armored targets – probably softening that armor before letting the Lancer get down to business. For reasons unknown to me, she was making her way to the crest of a hill that would overlook much of the battle in the valley below.

I didn't need to reason why, I just needed to keep her alive. It was ridiculous how bad my crush on this girl was. I followed in her wake, cutting down the Suxors that tried to close in on her flanks or blindside her. I remember immolating a Suxor with a blast of flame from my right hand that happily caught a second in its blast. Spears of ice formed around my left hand which worked like a shotgun, perforating another half squad. Cortana would be doing clean up for days - my drones were sweeping up everything they could find and most were on their second or even third run. Like I said:- I'm a Gunter. Not a Saint.

She had crested the hill, overlooking the valley where the frontline and center of the battle had congregated. She studied it for a moment then prepped the 16 shot Pegasus Missile Launcher of her left shoulder. Then, the world around me exploded in the roar of missiles and the backwash of smoke. It sprang up and unleashed its full payload across the battlefield, shredding entire squads of Suxors, several of their Hover Tanks, and gun emplacements. With a jolt, I realized she'd obliterated a near straight line from the center of the battle up the stairs to the threshold of Castle Anorak. The Suxors were moving in to plug the gap, but it helped shift the pace of the battle as the Army of the Oasis gained precious ground.

Her Lancer rifle had run dry and she had fallen back on matching wrist mounted 10mm caseless submachine guns, engaging two different targets simultaneously. Cortana confirmed those were NOT standard to the Combat Jacket but from something else a "Delta 6 Accelerator Suit" whatever that is. From her right shoulder, an Angel wing railgun deployed and began punching hapless Suxors apart with streams of supersonic projectiles.

She was a goddess, or more accurately, an angel on the battlefield. A warrior angel, dishing out unforgiving hell upon her unfortunate enemies. I think I'm not the only one who fell in love with her at that moment. But I'm pretty sure I fell in love with her first.

Her actions had unfortunately, drawn a lot of negative attention, and she took a missile literally straight to the face. I was either fast enough or lucky enough to get a pair of overlap shields on to her, seconds before the missiles hit. The cushioning and momentum cancellation charms slowed her down enough that a summoning charm allowed me to catch her, without being knocked over.

Her visor was cracked and clearly, she was stunned by her very close brush with death. For the first time, I noticed the "boss pole" that extended over her head. It was a banner scroll and I read the words on it and laughed. The words emblazoned across it on gold and red were true to the occasion: - "Save the Oasis. Save the World."

She looked up at me in irritation for a moment, then broke out in to that smile, that mischievous smile I'd not seen since that fateful evening, after we'd fled Frobozz, and I'd screwed things up between us. "Thanks."

"Welcome. I'm…" she pushed me down and I obliged as her wrist mounted weapon span a line of bullets down the hill. I pivoted low and let loose another icicle barrage, "…Gandalf! But you my fair lady, can call me Player One."

The Suxors were now suddenly streaming up the hill to retake the position. Probably to repeat the trick she'd just pulled. Not happening. Not now. Not ever. There were a lot of them. She sized me up and with a shake off her head, "Kaywinnet Lee Frye, but you can call me Kaylee." She withdrew her Harkonnen and from somewhere pulled a fresh six shot magazine. "You wanna play who's the better Sixer-Fixer?" she half teased, half taunted me. "Player Two?"

"Ready Player One." I replied with a smirk and a laugh.

"Least a platoon of Suxors coming up the hill." She said, as she primed the massive anti-tank weapon.

I cast a series of long term healing spells and several shields over her, and proceed to do the same for myself, "Yea. Doesn't seem fair does it?"

She laughed, the same melodious sound, "Yea. For them. Maybe I'll shoot left handed."

I smiled, laughed with her and together, we stormed down that hill. She had the guns, and the damage output, so I let her take point. She'd swapped the loadout on her combat jacket, replacing the missile launcher for a second Angel Wing Railgun. The Harkonnen was emptied within seconds and she cut loose with those wrist mounted guns. She was engaging four different targets at the same time, and putting them down with brutal efficiency. She was a killing machine, and between the two of us, she was definitely the Sixer-Fixer of the day.

I was on the sidelines you could say, keeping them off her flanks with magic blasts and when necessary casting shields, conjuring barriers to keep them for reaching her or doing any major damage. I figured for every two or three Suxors she fixed, I got one as well. Lightning, ice and fire crashed in to the Suxors as they rushed us again, though it was clear these guys were less enthusiastic. My guess was these suckers had probably died several times, and were feeling the fatigue of resurrection and then being tossed back in to the meat grinder.

The ground continued to shake as Parzival and Sorento threw down: - Mechagodzilla versus Ultraman.

I dropped Suxors with pinpoint blasts as often as I did with more generalized area of effect spells. Having fought as part of a clan for so long, juggling and switching between offensive spell casting and supportive as well as dropping healing totems, defensive shields, and conjuring physical barriers was cake. Every now and then, I would have to use my chained war glaive, whipping the heavy titanium bars like a giant club to smack aside any Suxor dumb enough to get in my face. We'd somehow become part of a wedge that was in the process of rolling up the right flank of the entire battlefield as Castle Anorak loomed large and imposing ahead of us. More and more joined our offensive rush and we were soon spearheading an assault on the center of the enemy battle line now curving to protect the entrance to the castle.

There was a deafening cheer suddenly and word quickly spread: - Sorrento himself had just had his mechanized ass blasted and handed to him in a cooperative takedown by three members of the High Five! That seemed to cut the heart out of the Suxors, who began falling back to tighten their defense of the entrance to the Castle. For the Suxors, it was too little too late. Really.

Parzival, Ache and Art3mis had just crossed the threshold! The only Suxors who could stop them, were those with a Crystal Key. There was nothing more we could do out here, besides kill every last scum sucking Suxor we could find on the field!

The Suxors knew it too, and began a rapid fallback that rapidly disintegrated into a rout. The field was ours. Avatars raised their weapons and gave chase, slaughtering the Suxors en masse. Then suddenly:- Silence. The Army ruled the field. No enemy remained. The cheers of victory, the understanding and comprehension that not only had we survived, but had won against the impossible numbers of IOI echoed across the entire battlefield. The Army of the Oasis had fought an implacable foe, in one single massive, painful, and brutal contest. It was a war waged for survival. And, we had won.

It is a day that history would forever remember as a Day of Destiny. One that History would never be allowed to forget. We cheered our victory. We laughed and celebrated. We scooped up a ton of loot, in credits, weapons, gear and I had stuffed three bags of holding full of loot and gear, deposited safely in my inventory. Cortana, informed me the Betty was stuffed to the gills as well. My inbox pinged with a new message. I shrugged and figured I could check it later. I wasn't the only one doing battlefield scavenging – there wasn't much else to do as we waited for word from the Castle, or for the scoreboard to change.

Then, it happened.

We.

All.

Died.

It turns out that when your Avatar is killed, your screen does not fade to black. Instead, you get locked in to a third-person perspective, and you're given a brief out-of-body recap of how you met your end. All of us, met our end, in mid-celebration.

There was a thunderous boom, like all the storms in the OASIS had suddenly just unleashed their loudest, crack of thunder. A split second later I was watching everyone who was celebrating, all frozen in mid action. Then, a white light, so bright and pure, you could have called it the light of creation that washed out everything with an ear splitting wall of sound.

I know now what it would be like to be vaporized in a nuclear blast as I saw the wave of light roll in on me. I saw every other Avatar, flash, their skeletons visible inside transparent outlines of our frozen forms. I saw my shields flare for a split-second, the still active regeneration spells struggle for a microsecond before collapsing. My armor count hit zero and then my hit points did the same. Then everything was turned to atomized dust. The entire planet, the entire SECTOR had just been reduced to a desolate, lifeless wasteland. A truly dead post-apocalyptic world, because the Suxors knew they could not win. They decided nobody would, detonated the Cataclyst and we were all left staring for several long seconds at two words in the middle of our screens: - Game Over.

Of course, everyone knows how things turned out. Parzival – Wade Owen "Obtuse" Watts had a second life from some artifact he had, and would go on to win the Hunt, and split his prize money with the rest of the High-Five, just like he promised. With his godlike powers in the OASIS, it took two weeks to sort everything out, but he resurrected every single Avatar that fought in the Army of the Oasis. Everyone was restored to life at the exact moment the Suxors had detonated. Getting our Avatars back, was truly the act of a Digital God. And his name is Parzival. All of us who fought, carry the memory of it. Something that will forever unite my generation of OASIS users.

Fast forward about nine months, and GSS had released a new quest line, and content. It was called, "The Gunters Quest." This was the whole story of the High-Five. Of how they met, fought and disagreed in Ache's basement, then united the OASIS to stand against Sorrento and IOI. You could "play" it as one of the High-Five or as a regular Gunter searching for the hell of it. Talk about reliving the defining events of your life over and over. Suffice to say that Gunter quest revealed a lot of things that we didn't know and confirmed a lot that was already well known. The biggest difference was that everyone in a Suxor uniform this time was an NPC. Including Sorrento. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when he heard about that.

I played the quest, as myself, reliving the experience in full, but I'm still stuck in the second gate, almost a year on. I just can't seem to get the hang of the timing to dodge the Black Dragon's flame attack in the. But that didn't matter to me anymore. The whole thing was now just a game - just another quest. The Gunter's Quest is to date, the only questline where the finale is basically a massive open PvE brawl that takes place once every three months.

I was standing on the same battlefield – or more accurately a recreation of it, looking around for Kaylee. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear "Parzival" and "Sorrento" bandying words back and forth. There was a distant shriek of metal as Mechagodzilla suddenly took the field. Then I saw her.

She was occupying the crest of the same hill she'd occupied, and we had stormed down together. That, I suppose you could say was one hell of a first date. I pushed my way through the crush of Avatars, and finally leapt up, landing lightly next to her as both her shoulder mounts deployed and prepped a full spread of thirty-two missiles.

Suddenly everything seemed to go mute, or soft, like I was hearing it all underwater. There was just her, and me. Nothing else mattered, or was worth a damn. She turned, saw me and smiled. She stared into my eyes, her feline canines this time, were matched with feline eyes. She licked her lips ever so slowly, seductively. And laughed. She cupped my cheek, reached up and kissed me, one I returned that kiss with equal fervor.

There were wolf whistles and catcalls aplenty, all playful from the Gunters all around us. But I didn't care. Neither did she. Every kiss still felt like I was falling in love again for the first time. And it had been a long. crazy happy year for us both, together.

I still don't know what changed for her, why she decided, in the middle of that insanely crazy battle to send me her Contact Card, so that we wouldn't lose touch, and miss our connection again. I'd cried when whichever scumbag Suxor set off the Cataclyst, because I thought that time, I'd lost her for sure, forever. She definitely had the foresight that day, something I am still grateful for almost one year on. Our second date was a quieter one at the Distracted Globe. But that's another story for another time. I'm just glad I did log back in to check my messages…otherwise… I'd probably be still crying my eyes somewhere in real life. We'd spent a year together online in the OASIS and offline, IRL. In the Real World, we'd met after three months of dating online. To see if there was any real-world chemistry. There was. A lot of it.

She didn't look much like her Avatar. But then, none of us really do. We all exist as nothing but raw personality in the OASIS. But she looked amazing in real life. Being honest, her Avatar is just… not as beautiful as she is in real life. I do find myself wondering from time to time exactly what she sees in me. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty enough IRL too. But she is way out of my league.

Suddenly the world snapped back in to focus, and I heard the war cry of Gunters from across the Oasis, from the mouth of the legend himself shouting the battle cry of my, of our generation: "First to the Key!"

I held out my hand, small, almost dainty in comparison to hers, clad in the heavy ceramite gauntlet of her now further refined and enhanced Combat Jacket Exo-Power Armor. She took mine in a surprisingly strong grip, that demonstrated an incredible level of control and finesse. That grip contained a lifetime of tenderness, passion and so many other emotions, I still have not yet figured out.

She smiled, and I saw those feline canines, and gorgeous eyes. I almost got lost in them again until she winked at me. A wink full of promise, full of mystery, of life, of hope, of love.

I didn't win billions in Credits to set me up for life.

There were no godlike powers or abilities in my life.

I didn't gain control of the OASIS.

But I found something else, far more important.

I'd found something better than the Halliday's Easter Egg.

I'd found my Easter Egg.

We held up our joined hands, and roared back with the rest of the Gunters, "First to the Egg!"

She let rip her barrage of 32 missiles as my Meteor Shower slammed down on to the hapless Suxors. We leapt from that cliff, hand in hand, and hit the ground, weapons blazing as we charged, to save the OASIS. To save our world, for each other.

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