Author's Note: Hey there, everybody! Welcome back to another writerly brainchild of mine. Ready Player One was absolutely awesome, and so was Zootopia. And thinking that exact thought, I said to myself, "Why not put the two of those things together?"
And that was how this story came to life. I also remember reading somewhere that there's supposedly some Zootopia cameos hidden within Ready Player One, and that made me want to sit down and write this story even more.
Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy this silly story of mine. As always, let me know what your thoughts were on this. Your thoughts, good and bad, are always gladly appreciated.
The eventual decline in things around the city was always prognosticated, but it all started to happen when no one was truly anticipating it. What had been almost idealistic had gradually become stricken by a growing number of mammals that were either experiencing poverty or homeless altogether. There had been an additional state of worry regarding energy sources, but that, thankfully, received partial resolution by the inclusion of enough solar panels to help power the city and its surrounding districts.
But in the midst of the darker moments that life currently threw at the world, there existed a possible way to escape all of the frustrations, even if it was only for a few measly minutes. And it went by the name of the OASIS.
Practically everyone and their mother was already familiar with its existence and its function, and the fox, who stood in the sunlight that was shimmering through the dark curtains, was no exception. For him and everybody else that was aware of it, an expansive virtual reality was never too far away.
Letting out a deep sigh, he made his way over to a plainly-colored couch that sat in the corner of the living room. He was already donning the haptic suit that allowed him to feel everything he would possibly experience in this virtual world, and all that was left for him to put on was his goggles.
One couch cushion away sat his bunny companion, Judy, who was currently putting on her leporine-sized goggles over her eyes.
"Still can't believe that hint someone posted on that message board was a dud," the rabbit said to the fox. "And to think I thought we were getting close to finding the next key."
"I can believe it, Carrots," Nick replied. "He either misinterpreted the clue or was intentionally givin' us false info to throw all of the gunters off. We are all competing for chance to become the owners of a virtual world, after all."
Judy nodded. "Just remember," she said. "If we both manage to find out wherever this thing is, we get that huge house we always looked at with the money that comes with winning."
The vulpine grinned. "Agreed. We just gotta keep our eyes on the prize." He then slipped the goggles over his eyes. "Time to win us ownership of this joint," he muttered to himself.
As the haptics completely covered his vision of the living room, he had been directed to utter his passphrase in order to verify it was him logging in.
"It's called a hustle, sweetheart," he said.
Verification Successful, were the words he was met with before he ended up being swept away from his surroundings and into the wide world of the OASIS.
His avatar took shape in an instant, and he found himself standing in the midst of what looked like a gigantic old-school arcade. The walls around him were painted in a dark color, and neon lights illuminated the area. Clang and clamor filled his ears, coming from all of the different games, most of them old school, that occupied the room. Pinball machines dinging, blipping noises, electronic buzzers, and cartoonish gunfire were only a few of the different sounds coming from inside of this spot, unequally colliding with some synth-based techno music coming from some nearby speakers.
He remembered where he was rather quickly. This had been the last location he and Judy had searched before they logged out last. The avatar that belonged to the gray bunny had materialized to his left not even ten seconds later, dressed in a blue qipao with touches of gold and large spiked bracelets on her wrists.
Nick glimpsed down at the outfit that his avatar was currently wearing, What he had on was green clothing that made him look as if he had stepped straight out of a medieval timeline. This had been one of the outfits he had purchased before. The outfit that was worn by his childhood hero, Robin Hood.
While it was possible to become any mammal of one's choosing when creating an OASIS account, he chose to remain a fox by default. Like a good majority of other players, his avatar's species was the same that it was in the real world, with a few different changes in appearance made. Despite all of the different possibilities when it came to customization, he didn't bother with them. He wanted his avatar to look more like his actual self. So even though the system made it possible for him to have a pair of angel wings or multiple tails, it wasn't something he was really that interested in.
His avatar name—WildeAnimal—flashed in the corner of vision for abided moment, followed by the message that welcomed him back to the OASIS. He grinned at the pun he had used in said name. Prior to that it was originally DevourerOfBlueberries—the name derived from his undying love for that kind of fruit—but it quickly died off, leading him to change it to what it was now.
"Okay," he breathed with determination. He looked over at Judy, who was now staring back at him. "What do ya say we do now, Fluff?"
"Before we go anywhere, we better rethink the clue again," the rabbit suggested. "I looked over the second line, and I'm getting a hunch that it's pertaining to that-"
"Hey," a male voice remarked, pausing the lagomorph's thoughts.
Nick and Judy both paused and turned their heads to see another figure walking up towards where they stood in the gigantic expanse of arcade machines. Who they saw was a striped jackrabbit wearing a suit made him look like he was in some sort of spy movie.
"Jack," Nick greeted. "Or should I say, Agent Savage?"
The buck responded with a small nod of his head. Agent Savage was the username he had given himself when he first joined the OASIS, and most referred to him as such. Pointing to the outfit on the fox's avatar, he remarked, "Borrowing from the rich that can afford to lose, I see."
In an imitated accent, the vulpine responded, "Aye, lad. And 'tis good to run into another fellow gunter along the way."
"Anyway," the striped rabbit said, "did either of you two happen to see an arctic vixen walking around these parts?"
"We just logged in not too long ago," Judy answered, "so I'm afraid not."
Nick looked over at Jack and grinned widely. "Is it possible that you're looking for that mysterious 'Skye' you've talking about for awhile now? Admit it, you got a crush on her."
"W-What?" the buck hesitated. "I-I was just wondering if she-"
"The love bug's a lot stronger than you want to believe it is," the fox interrupted. "Not even mammal in the OASIS are immune to it."
Jack sighed and looked back up at Nick, unwilling to bluntly admit to the fact that he was truly developing a crush for this arctic vixen that they were speaking about. "I better be on my way now," was the last thing he told the two before he strolled off elsewhere.
As he walked in a somewhat-hurried fashion, near found himself bumping into a raccoon, taller than he would have seen in the real world, in a blue elbow-sleeved shirt and matching gloves.
For a brief moment, Nick remained completely silent. His mind slowly returning to what he was originally focused on deciphering, he looked back over at Judy. "Now then, Carrots," he said, "tell me what you're were sayin' about a hint you got after re-reading that clue."
Elsewhere in the OASIS...
Right when he mentally told himself that she wasn't here and went to turn back, Jack felt a claw tap him on the shoulder. When he turned around to face who had did that, he saw the arctic vixen that he had looking for standing right behind him, dressed in a crop top and vintage jean shorts.
"Hey," she greeted with a smooth tone of voice.
"H-Hi," Jack said back with a bit of hesitation. As he looked at her icy blue eyes, he was pretty certain that he was blushing underneath the haptic goggles he had on in reality. "It's pretty funny running into you. I was looking for you."
"This is one of my favorite spots to come and hang out," Skye replied. "Oh, and I wanted to tell you something."
"I think I figured out where the clues said to go."
"Really?" Jack answered, now curious to know more about what the vixen figured out regarding the location of the next key.
Meanwhile, back in Zootopia...
Up until this very moment in time, he could not recall a moment in this life where he was more in a rush to do something.
In the midst of the afternoon nap he had woken up from, Wolford had a dream regarding the possible location of what he needed to find next in the OASIS. It might have been considered a tad problematic that the virtual reality was now occupying his dream, but to him that showed just how focused he was on uncovering the mystery.
Emerging from the other room, the timber wolf ran in and quickly searched for where he had left both his haptic gloves and goggles last. After figuring out that he had left them on the nearby coffee table, he quickly put them on and sat upright in the nearby chair.
He let out a howl, both out of utter enthusiasm and because that had been what he configured as his passphrase, and it filled the noiseless space. The very instant he got logged in, he planned to visit Fangmeyer's chat room and see if they could both talk about the idea he had received.
The moment that he selected it, his avatar had quickly transported to the chat room that belonged to Fangmeyer. Within the matter of a few seconds, all of the details of the room become more and more clear.
The walls surrounding him looked like they constructed out of dark wood, and several posters for campy sci-fi movies from decades past could be seen in frames that were mounted upon them. On another wall was a dartboard, with several red-colored darts still stuck to several sections of it. A foosball table was in another section of the large space, and on the opposite side was an old and bulky projection tv with some kind of game running on it.
The purple tanker boots of Wolford's avatar clacked against the linoleum floors of the room as he got closer to where the television was positioned. A gaming chair with a bluish design on it was nearby, and Fangmeyer could be seen sitting in it with a black and green game controller in both paws.
"Fangmeyer?" Wolford inquired, trying to get his attention off of the game for the time being.
The tiger immediately turned his head away from the large screen of the television, setting the controller down on the ground and rising from out of his chair. Once he had abandoned playing the game, the futuristic vehicle that he was riding through the tunnel on the screen came to a halt. "Game Over"—the two most unlikable words any gamer could possibly see or hear—flashed across the screen afterwards, quickly being replaced with a display that showed who placed where during that race.
"And I was just a few seconds away from beating my record time, too," Fangmeyer said to the wolf standing in front of him. "Anyhow, what is it you waned to tell me about?" Pointing to him, he added, "Like the new outfit, by the way."
Wolford's avatar donned an unzipped vest that exposed a muscle shirt underneath it. On his paws were purple fingerless gloves that showed off his claws, and on his legs were spiked knee pads.
"Hey, thanks," the canid replied upon being complemented, looking down at his figure. "It cost me a good number of credits to buy this upgrade, but I can't say it ain't worth it."
"I can agree to that," Fangmeyer said. "It takes a lot to acquire some of the outfits you can give yourself on here." He placed on his own on his own attire—a heroic suit that was tinted a deep shade of blue, with a red emblem near his chest. "Especially my latest purchase. Here, I'll show you it in a second."
The tiger accessed his player inventory. Browsing through his avatar's possible customizations, he selected the one he wanted to show Wolford. The inventory closed, and Fangmeyer's appearance started to quickly shift. His arms and legs had changed into skeletal versions of themselves, while his upper half remained the way it was.
"Woah," Wolford said. "Dude, you can become a skeleton? That's frickin' awesome."
"Yeah, I agree," Fangmeyer replied. "But it costed a helluva lot of credits. All of the ones I earned completing that Halloween-themed mission went to this. I could either buy this or a mummy one for the same amount, so I chose this." While they were on the topic, he remembered something else he had acquired. "Which reminds me of another one I unlocked while completing said mission."
Opening his inventory once again, Fangmeyer scrolled for yet another one of his avatar's obtained costumes. Upon making his selection once again, what he currently had on started to change to an outfit that looked like it had been shipped from the North Pole. His clothing changed to a large red suit that Santa Claws wore in the depictions of him. Gloves now covered his paws, and complimentary spits of holly and miniature ornamental bulbs added to the outfit. Along with the change of clothing, the tiger now had a set of elegantly-curved reindeer antlers and a nose that was red. And, while the upper part of his body kept its ordinary feline appearance, the bottom half of his body had changed to that of a reindeer, with hooves and a much smaller tail.
Wolford looked at him and shook his head. "Geez," he muttered. "Now how in the world did ya get this one?"
Fangmeyer snickered under his breath. "Gettin' my paws on this one was damn near impossible," he answered. "In order to do it I had to get a perfect score in that one Christmas village challenge. That meant I had to dodge every obstacle and not screw up once. I read rumors on here that you got this if you did right, so I gave it a shot. Turns out the rumors of the reward for doing just that were true."
"Awesome," the canid replied. "Just awesome. See I don't a whole bunch of extra outfits like you do. The only ones I got are the one I'm wearin' and that one I used to use that made me look like a black and white cartoon."
"Ah, yeah, I remember that one. Anyhow, I was-"
An electronic sound to the striped feline's right made him freeze in the middle of their conversation. He turned his head and realized that it was coming from a small communication device that was sitting by the chair he had previously been sitting in. He swiped up with a paw and looked at what was being currently displayed upon its screen. A request had been made for someone else to join him and Wolford in the chat room.
Once he got a look at the name of who had made the request, he immediately accepted it, and then switched back to his avatar's regular form. A few seconds after he did so, the tiger and wolf both heard someone strolling over to where he was standing. The steps came from the figure of a cheetah that was slowly approaching them.
"Clawhauser," Wolford said upon seeing who had walked in. "Good thing you dropped by, 'cause I was just about to tell Fangmeyer somethin' and maybe you'd like to hear it too."
The cheetah's avatar build was a lot more slender than his actual body, which was actually a bit more rotund in reality. He donned a white and blue cap with a blue pine tree symbol on the front of it, as well as a navy vest with an orange shirt underneath it.
"Before you tell us about that, I got something to say as well," Clawhauser stated. "You know that simulation of Valenwood that we talked about a couple days ago? Well I decided to check it out for the fun of it and I ended up unlocking something pretty cool along the way."
The large spotted feline opened his avatar's inventory and selected something from its holographic display. Once he made his choice, the hat he was wearing was immediately replaced with a metal helmet that covered a good portion of his head and face.
"Oooh," Wolford uttered upon seeing what Clawhauser had recently unlocked.
"I know, right?" the cheetah responded. "Supposedly it's supposed to grant me some sort of immunity if I'm in a combat zone. Isn't that something?"
"That's awesome," the timber wolf that was listening to him said. "Congratulations."
"Oh, and I got this new power-up," Clawhauser continued with enthusiasm. "When I apply it, it allows me to levitate for several minutes at a time. Gosh, it is just the coolest!" A few seconds of silence filled the room, and his mind came back to what the wolf had just told him before he started to ramble. "So what is it that you wanted to tell me and Fangmeyer?"
"Oh, right." Wolford paused a brief moment. "I think I've got an idea on where the next key is hidden."
Both Fangmeyer and Clawhauser let out gasps of enthusiasm, now eager to know more on the matter.
"Well?" the tiger of the three said. "Spit it out. Where's this thing at?"
"Hear me out, you two," the canid answered. "I have good faith that it's waiting just outside the perimeter of that area with those grottos. Where we we're thinking of looking the other day before we decided not to."
"That's where you think it is?" Clawhauser asked after a momentary pause. "In one of those little caves? What gave you that sudden notion?"
"If I tell you guys why I think this, will you promise not to laugh?" Wolford inquired in reply.
Fangmeyer nodded his head, and the cheetah alongside them pantomimed the motion of zipping his lips closed.
The timber wolf exhaled before telling them why. "Well…" he said. "I had this dream about before I came on here, and I thought we should head over to where I saw in the-"
Right then and there, the tiger interrupted him with an abrupt snicker. Wolford immediately casted a glare in his direction.
"I thought you just promised to not laugh at what I was sayin'," the canid snapped.
"Yeah, I know," Fangmeyer replied. "It's just that following something that you had a dream about just seems pretty silly. You probably dreamt about that 'cause figuring out where it is has been on your mind."
"Then you've obviously never heard of precognitive dreaming," Wolford remarked back. "You know, where mammals have a dream about something that's going to happen before it does. How do you know I wasn't having a little foresight about the OASIS?"
"You have every right to believe in what you want to, but I'm just tryin' to think a little bit more realistically here."
Wolford huffed and crossed his arms. "Alrighty then," he said. "When I find this key and then solve the whole shebang single-handedly, don't be lookin' for an invitation to my victory party."
"Hey," Clawhauser chimed in, looking over at Fangmeyer. "Putting the whole dream debate aside, I personally think Wolford might be on to somethin'. It's quite possible that the key could be in one of those caves. Think about it: That area gets barely any visitors, so it'd be the perfect place to stash a hidden object. It'd be the last place on anyone's radar."
"Thank you, Clawhauser," the wolf remarked. He turned his attention away from the cheetah and looked back at the tiger in the room. "I'm just going with my gut feeling here. The worst we could do is go scope the scene and find out that what we're lookin' for isn't there. What do we really got to lose except a little bit of our time?"
Fangmeyer let out a small sigh. "I suppose you're right," he admitted. "Let's head over and check this place out, then."
"Alright!" Wolford exclaimed, joyfully pumping a fist in the air. "Fangmeyer, this means you're back on the invitation list for that victory party. Better yet, you and Clawhauser can actually come help me host the thing."
The orange-furred feline shook his head at his childish remark.
"Okay," Clawhauser said, holding a paw stiffly out in front of him. "Paws in the middle, everyone."
"What?" Fangmeyer responded.
"You know, paws in the middle?" the cheetah asked in reply. "Where we put our paws together, one on top of the other, to symbolize that we're a team?"
"Since when has a group putting their paws in a pile ever held a great amount of significance?"
Wolford responded, "Don't be the dampener of our spirits."
Fangmeyer complied with canid, joining him and Clawhauser. Wolford placed his paw on top of the cheetah's, and the tiger placed his on top of the canid's. A few seconds, the three of them lifted their arms and swung them up into the air. Both Wolford and Clawhauser had enthusiastic expressions now taking form across their muzzles.
"There's normally supposed to be some kind of cheer that comes after the whole paw-stack thing," the cheetah of the group said, "but I couldn't think of any at the moment."
Wolford remarked, "To the caves we go!"
Meanwhile, in another spot in the OASIS...
Running as if his very life depended on it—which it did in a sort of way—the figure darted over to the left of the dilapidated street corner. He noticed a series of large crates stacked tall enough o provide him with a shield of protection, and he got himself over to them and ducked.
Collecting his breath, he took one quick glance back at what awaited him on the other side of the wooden crates that kept him partially safe. Fires burned in various places, the windows of several buildings looked as if they had been smashed, and the sounds of guns being cocked and fired could be heard.
As snarling noises from something in the distance greeted his ears, he turned his head back around. His eyes looked down at the bulky gravity gun, which he continued to grip on to with the monstrous, aqua-green paws of his avatar's colorful form. While figuring out what his next move was going to be, he started to question to himself why he had even decided to do an OASIS activity as intense as this in the first place.
Setting what he had grasping onto down on the ground for just a moment, he opened up a screen that allowed him to remain in communication with the other players. When the screen of who he wanted to speak with loaded up to his side, the figure of a muscular rhino, who he could see was running from something, appeared.
"Come on, mammal!" he shouted to the rhino on the screen. "You better get over here and back me up!"
"I'm sorry," the ungulate he was speaking with said with a heavy sigh, caused by the endured running. "I was stuck between a rock and a hard place awhile ago."
"Just get here quickly!"
He shut down the screen and picked the gravity gun back up. Clutching onto it, he slowly lifted himself from off of the dirty, litter-covered ground and took a couple of baby steps back. As his ears continued to register the sounds of gunfire, he pressed a button on what he was holding onto and pointed it towards the crate on the very top of the stack. The gravity gun did its job, lifting the wooden box from where it stood and keeping it in the air.
He walked out of where he originally had some safety and out towards where all of the commotion was. He pulled the trigger, and the crate flew into the air, traveling a good distance. Not exactly the best move, but it gave whoever was out there an indication that someone was present and would engage in combat with them if necessary.
After creating that small distraction, he stealthily slid onto the nearby sidewalk, coming across where a glass window had been smashed and stepping inside to where it lead. Where he found himself now was a vacant room with gray walls, coated in vivid graffiti. As long as he stayed away from that opening the broken window created and stayed to the side, he'd have a lot more protection than he did before.
It'd be even better if that rhino would get here quicker and help him out, but it was evident that things weren't exactly going to be as easy as he wished for them to be.
A nearby boom resonated across the cityscape, causing him to jump in shock. He remained in the corner of where he was now hiding in, trying his best to remain calm. But how was he to remain calm in the middle of a dangerous situation like this?
He heard something smack against the graffiti-stained wall on the opposite side of the abandoned room, landing on the ground. For a few seconds, he didn't move a single muscle. But when he noticed that what had landed in the space was a grenade, a sudden state of panic kicked in.
"Crap!" he yelled to himself.
He quickly ran back out of where the window had been broken, but not quickly enough to escape the grenade's inevitable detonation.
The moment his avatar had died, Finnick snatched the goggles off of his eyes and snarled in a fit of anger. The views of the small and dingy apartment came back to him as the fennec fox's eyes readjusted to the scenery around him.
He had been playing for a good bit of time now, and he was downright irritated by the fact at what just happened. Not to mention the fact that what he obtained during that period of time was now lost, and would probably now be collected by whoever encountered it next in that zone.
And that crap had to happen when I was gettin' close to completing that course, he thought to himself. That just ticks me off…
After his avatar had died, it was going to be a little bit of time before he could log back in and try again. Until that moment came around, though, it was probably in his best interest to just take a breather and avoid getting too worked up about all of this.
It was time for him to just enjoy a couple minutes in the real world.
Meanwhile, in Bunnyburrow…
Turning the sign on the door from "Open" to "Closed," the portly fox was closing up shop for the remainder of the day. On this day of the week, his hours only ranged from around seven in the morning and three in the afternoon. Not the most orthodox opening and closing times when compared to things similar to his, but that was the thing that he liked the most about running his own business. Being his own boss and the runner of the places, he had the granted ability to create whatever hours he wanted.
As he looked around at his humble little shop one more time before heading out the door. A few minutes later, he locked up the building and got ready to go home for the rest of the day. Not that many customers on this particular day, except for one couple that stopped in to grab something small every few weeks or so.
With the crises that had been going on for awhile, he expected his business to gradually decline in terms of what he sold. But the Tri-Burrows were getting along quite well, and, much to his surprise, the unfavorable scenarios his mind thought could happen eluded his business as well. Even in the midst of these less-than-favorable times, there was still a good number folks that wished to treat themselves to baked goods, and thank the gods for that. Today, though, was just a lot less busier in comparison to the previous days in the month. But that didn't mean he was going to go home and fret about it. He simply did what he had taught himself to do: Shrug it off with the knowledge that something better than today was yet to come.
Getting himself the vehicle that proudly displayed the name of his business, Gideon started to drive himself back to where he lived. His home sat a good fifteen minute drive away from where his bakery was, and there was no such thing as bad traffic where he lived in this part of the country, so the commute would be easy-peasy.
Once he got back to the house, he walked over and took his load off. In the corner of the room sat something he never believed he would ever purchase. An OASIS haptic suit and goggles, sized to fit his body type. When the whole thing came out, he originally showed no interest to it. The evolution of modern technology was never really something he showed a lot of care for.
But two things changed his viewpoint on the OASIS: One of those being Sharla. When he heard the sheep, who always had a large fascination for science, gadgetry and the like, said she was joining in on all of the fun, he knew he had to participate in the big hunt. Even though he was quite unfriendly towards her and her friends when they were all little, Gideon made up for his mistakes in the past and ended up becoming good friends with her. And the more time they spent together, both in the real and virtual world, he personally felt like a connection was establishing between them.
And the second of those things was the competition. When it was publicly announced that mammals around the world were beginning the ultimate hunt for the hidden easter egg in the vast game, Gideon decided to join in. It went against what he used to think on technology altogether, but was wrong with a little competition? A little contest never killed anyone.
Speakin' of contests, Gideon thought, walking over to where the suit was and getting himself into it. I'd say it's time for me t' continue searchin'.
The moment he slipped his goggles over his eyes, he was greeted with the sights of what looked like a cozy-looking cabin. Over to the left was a fireplace that seemed to be warming up the area, as the sights he could see from some nearby windows looked out to nothing but a think blanket of snow.
This must have been where I was last time, he thought.
He was still unsure of how the game functioned, so he was surprised to find out he was right where he had left off.
As he got closer to where the fire had been kindled, he heard the sounds of acoustic guitar starting to play around him. He started to approach a polished brown table, where a pie sat in a fancy serving dish. It looked as if it just came out of the oven not too long ago, and he started to smell a rich and buttery aroma coming from it.
"Smells like… butterscotch and cinnamon," he muttered to himself.
A chiming sound disturbed his thoughts, causing him jump due to its unexpectedness. Right then and there, he was met with a message that covered his vision, saying that Sharla was asking him to join her in her chat room. The moment he saw the black sheep's face appear, he immediately accepted the request.
The views of the comfy cabin were gone, and were soon replaced with a location that was pretty dark. Gideon saw a glow of blue light a couple paces away from him, and he decided to follow it. The light got closer and closer, and as he continued to walk forward, what now surrounded him made his mouth hang wide open in utter amazement.
He was now standing in the middle of a scientific room that he used to think only existed in one of those futuristic shows that used to play on television. Blue fluorescent bulbs illuminated the walls on either side of him, casting a glow against a series of long-stretching desks. Resting on these flowing bureaus was a series of scientific instruments used for taking measurements or providing an analysis on an object. Several nearby modems beeped as he passed them by, the sound they produced reminding him of the kind of heart monitor would make.
No doubt about it that this was how Sharla decided to decorate her space within the OASIS. Considering science had been something she was obsessed with studying from her early schooldays, a space decked to the brim with scientific gadgets and gizmos was pretty much assumed of her.
His attention ended up going up to the ceiling, which went from completely dark to faintly lit as he gazed up at it. Just then, the entire roof above him became filled with clusters of twinkling stars belonging to their galaxy. Minuscule words appeared underneath a good number of them, indicating the name they were classified under. It was as if he were standing right in the middle of a humongous planetarium.
"Golly," he breathed, taking in the scenery above him. It was as if he were stargazing, minus the outside elements.
The stars all around the ceiling quickly dissipated, quickly being replaced with realistic images of some of the planets in the solar system. Gideon continued to stare at with a great sense of amazement.
The whirring of a loud buzzer startled him, and looked over to see two large chrome doors gradually sliding open. Over where the hatches were now agape, a purely white room could be seen, with Sharla currently occupying it.
The fox started to walk up to where she was, noticing that she actually appeared to be levitating off of the ground. The ovine was wearing a white tank top with a circular logo on it, as well as a pair of orange pants that looked like they were part of a jumpsuit. A wide smile seemed plastered on her face as she continued to float around in this small space of the room, her hooves barely touching the ground.
Sharla maneuvered herself away from the room she was in, her motions similar to the kind a swimmer would make while underwater. The moment her body stepped out of the plain white section of the area, she suddenly stopped levitating and landed on the floor. She stumbled for a couple of seconds before looking over at Gideon.
"Hey," the sheep greeted.
"Well, ain't that somethin'," the fox remarked in response.
"What are you talking about?"
"How in the world did ya get yerself t' float 'round in the air like that?" Gideon asked.
"Oh," Sharla replied, "when I was customizing this little space, I decided to equip it with a little zero-gravity room."
"Heh, well that's a purty neat addition to the place. Heck, this whole place is amazin'."
"That's the great thing 'bout all of this. You can pretty much do anything your heart desires when you're in a virtual reality. You wanna give the zero-g a try? It's pretty fun."
Gideon shook his head. "Naw, I might have t' take a raincheck on that, Sharla. I dunno nothin' 'bout how that 'ere-"
"Come on," Sharla interrupted, holding her hoof out and pulling him forward.
She took him by the arm and started to drag him towards the zero-gravity room within the gigantic, scientifically-themed room. As soon as she lead him directly into that brightly-lit space, they both started to float from off of the ground.
Sharla let go of the fox's paw and drifted towards another corner of the area. She whooped gleefully as she did a small flip in the air. Gideon, meanwhile, was trying his darnedest to get accustomed to the sensation of floating freely without any gravitational force. The fox's eyes indicated to her that he was a bit nervous, but that feeling quickly dissipated for him once he had gotten accustomed to what was occurring. As he continued to drift weightlessly, it actually started to feel kind of fun to him.
Gideon hovered over to the corner where Sharla was floating. He did a horizontal spin, similar to a barrel roll an aeroplane made when in flight, as he got closer towards her.
"There you go," Sharla remarked. "Now you're gettin' the hang of the zero-g."
The fox smiled and laughed under his breath. "Hold on," he said to the ovine, "wait 'til ya see this."
The black-wooled sheep watched as Gideon propelled himself forward and wafted towards the center of the room. He tucked his body into a ball, pulling his knees up to his chest as if he were about to do a cannonball. He did another little flip in the air before doing a high kick in the air and holding his paws out in front of him like he was some sort of kung fu artist.
Sharla couldn't help but chuckle at the large vulpine's antics. "Nice moves," she said. "Especially that kick at the end. Reminds me of that martial arts movie. You know, the one where that tiger fights off the bad snow leopard." She floated over to the wall behind her, where three red buttons were located. "Check this out."
The sheep placed a hoof over the second button in front of her and pressed it. A short buzz reverberated around the area, and the shining white room became pitch black. Gideon looked around as he continued to float, and he started to notice some shape forming underneath him. An elliptical-shaped vortex started to grow on the flooring below him and the ovine, glowing with vividness hues of magenta and light blue.
"Gosh," Gideon muttered. "What's this, Sharla?"
"It's one of the three programmed backgrounds this room can change to," Sharla explained. "That eclipse you're seein' on the floor is a replicated image of a stellar overdensity."
The fox responded, "Well, 'ere's some four-dollar words. I ain't got that much know-how on any of that science stuff, but it sure sounds neat."
"There's one other mode I want to show ya," the black sheep said, pushing the bottom button in.
Not even a few seconds later, the lights started to come back on. Gideon shielded his face as he tried to adjust to their sudden brightness once again.
Putting the paw that was shielding his eyes back down, he noticed that, even though the lighting was back to normal, the walls were entirely different. In contrast to their unpigmented appearance, the walls of the zero-gravity space had become a reflector. The look of the room now made him feel as if they were both standing inside a hall of mirrors at a carnival.
He turned his head around and continued to glimpse at the many reflections of both his and Sharla's avatar staring back at him. A buzzer resonated once again, and the mirrors vanished, being replaced with those colorless walls that were originally there before.
Sharla floated over to the opposite side of the space, locating a switch that remained covered by a glass container. This was the switch that temporarily shut off the room's zero-gravity simulation. Lifting the container up, she pressed the button and quickly darted over to where Gideon remained.
As she did so, a robotic voice commenced a countdown from five. Once it reached zero, she found herself falling back down to the ground along with Gideon. She landed right on her hooves and assisted the fox up after he had landed a bit clumsier than her.
"Well, I'll be darned," he remarked to himself, walking out of the room and back to where all of the scientific instruments were.
Sharla followed his steps shortly afterwards, and the doors to where they were a few moments ago automatically shut and locked themselves after they walked away.
"Anyway," the ovine said, "now that you're here, I got an idea on where we could go."
"Well, wherever that might be," Gideon responded, "tell me it ain't gonna be somewhere crazy. 'Cause last time ya insisted we check out that, uh… whatcha say that super dark thing we did was called again?"
"Hero's Duty?" Sharla replied.
The fox nodded his head. "Yep. Now that ya said it, the name rings a bell." He shivered upon remembrance of what they were discussing. "That's somethin' I don't wanna do a second time. I still remember when that huge bug-lookin' thing swooped down and pinned me t' the ground. Not somethin' I'm lookin' t' do a second time."
"You don't gotta worry one bit, Giddy," was the reassuring answer he got. "We're not goin' anywhere near there."
Gideon breathed a sigh of relief. "Whew, that's good t' hear."
"Because what I had in mind," Sharla continued, "was something even more fast-paced than that was."
"I gotta feelin' this ain't gonna be good."
"Don't be quick to judge. I'm actually thinkin' that you're gonna like this."
"Let's pray yer right 'bout that." After a brief pause, Gideon asked, "Besides, shouldn't we be tryin' t' find out what we need t' get our paws on if we wanna win this contest?
"The contest can wait for right now. Let's go."
The next thing he knew, Gideon found himself behind the steering wheel of a very exotic-looking vehicle. Where the radio was located consisted of a lot of different buttons, their functions unknown to him. This luxurious ride was far more advanced when compared to the vehicle rode around and made deliveries with in the real world.
The fox continued to gaze out of the front window of the car, looking at all of the other kinds of vehicles that were in front of him and encompassing him on either side. Most of them were similar to what he was currently behind the wheel, while others were open-wheeled dragsters. A small number of larger trucks were also present, as well as few motorcycles.
"I oughta admit," Gideon said to himself. "This here idea o' Sharla's ain't lookin' that bad. I always had a thing for auto racin' when I was a lil' kit, so bein' part of it's actually purty interestin'."
Just then he heard a distorted noise arising from the nearby speakers. As the noise started to dissipate, he started to hear Sharla's voice becoming audible.
"Pretty neat idea I came up with, huh?" she asked.
It was as if she could hear him despite her not being in the same place as he was, or she was reading his mind. One or the other. He wanted to respond to her, but he didn't know how in the blazes to do that. For a moment he just remained silent, his paws still gripping tightly onto the steering wheel.
"Giddy?" Sharla asked, breaking the noiselessness. "You there?" A second later, she answered her own inquiry. "Oh, right. You're wonderin' how you to work the whole communications thing. Press and hold that one button below the radio for a couple of seconds. If you do that, both of our communicators well be in sync with one another as we drive."
Gideon looked over at the radio and located the button she was pertaining to. He did as he was instructed, pressing and holding it in. When he heard a series of chimes played in a deep chord, he assumed that meant he could let go of the button.
So… does that mean she can hear me? he asked himself in his head.
"You got it workin'?" came the sheep's voice once again.
Gideon didn't know what he was supposed to do next. It wasn't like they talking through walkie-talkies, where he knew to hold a button down to speak with another mammal. His first thought was to just speak out loud and see what resulted of that.
"Uh, yeah, I think I got it," he muttered aloud. "Can ya hear me, Sharla?"
He got no answer for a couple of seconds, but the sound of static soon filled the car. "I read ya loud and clear," the ovine confirmed.
Now knowing he did things correctly, Gideon put on a smile and reclined back in the driver's seat. "What car ya in, anyhow?" he asked after a brief pause.
"I'm the jet black one in front of you," she answered. "The one that looks identical to the one you're in."
Gideon looked around and searched for the vehicle Sharla was in, spotting it quite quickly. He waved a paw in the air. "I'm wavin' towards ya," he said. "Can ya see me or naw?"
The small sound of the sheep chuckling was the response he got. "You know I'm too far away to see that," she responded.
"Oh well," Gideon muttered in reply, putting the paw he was waving back down on the steering wheel.
"The race is probably gonna start shortly," Sharla informed.
"I'm ready. Y'know, I gotta tell ya that this was one swell idea ya came up with. Like my childhood dreams comin' t' life."
"Told you you'd like what I had in mind. Also, I was just thinking of something."
"And what's that?"
"Maybe this might be the location of what were supposed to find next."
"What makes ya say that?"
"Well, thinking back to the clue, I remember there being a mentioning of roaring. Maybe I'm reading into it, but it's possible that the roaring its pertaining to is the roaring of engines. Like in the cars we're driving."
"So ya think the key's waitin' at the end of the track?"
"It's just a wild guess, but it's possible."
"Sharla, yer a genius. I'd have never got that oughta the clue."
The nearby stoplight above the starting line he and the others remained idle in lit red, and the noise of many engines roaring greeted the fox' ears. He got himself ready as the light then changed to yellow. The very instant it became green, he gave the car some gas as those ahead of him started to rocket out of the start of the racing course stretched out ahead of them.
The wide path that proceeded remained straight for a good distance, up until they all came to the first right turn. Gideon and the others maneuvered their way through it, and they started to approach yet another turn, this time directing them the other direction.
Two cars that were behind him managed to get in front of him, passing him and Sharla up. Him and the sheep both started to approach a fork in the track's path, giving them and the other racers the choice of where they wish to go.
Although Gideon was certain that it was all connected and that either direction would result in them getting to the same place, he decided to make a left turn the moment Sharla's car made one. It was better that he go on the same course that she was than to split up and do the opposite.
A good bit of the other vehicles were taking the right turn as the fox and sheep passed them all up. Within his field of vision, Gideon started to see that the path he was steadily approaching appeared to be elevated, as if they were about to merge onto some sort of raised expressway.
He simply continued to follow Sharla as they both reached the elevation. What followed was them continuing to drive onto a bridge, trying to maintain a speed that would hopefully lead to them passing up the two that were in front of them.
Midway across the bridge portion of the track, Gideon started to see the outlines of a skyscraper-line metropolis, standing against a body of water, gradually coming into view. Within his peripheral vision, he noticed the cars that had taken the path on the right starting to approach the city area as well. Just as he presumed, they were all going to meet up in the same location until another fork in the passage came about.
They were reaching the descending portion of the bridge, and Gideon started to see something glowing on the left. Although he wasn't sure what it was, it looked like some sort of circle that was flashing like the lights on top of a police cruiser. Curiosity started to fill him in that moment, and he steered towards it and drove passed it. As he did that, orange holographic letters appeared across his windshield, saying: Speed Boost Acquired. Push Flashing Button to Activate.
An icon where the "Check Engine" light would normally be appeared on his dashboard, and he assumed this had something to do with what he had just gotten. But how do I turn on what it's tellin' me to? he asked himself.
He took one paw off of the wheel for a quick moment, and he located another button near the radio that was flashing. Because he was told to press a flashing button to activate it, he went ahead and did so.
The very instant he did that, what occurred next totally caught him off guard. Even though he never pressed any harder on the gas pedal, his speed seemed to increase at least twenty more miles per hour. A look of surprise now across his face, Gideon quickly jerked the wheel to the right upon approaching Sharla's car, his tires screeching. And the moment he saw those other two ahead of him, he immediately steered himself to the left to avoid hitting them.
Right after that had happened, his speed had went right back to where it had originally been prior to that boost. Gideon let out a large of sigh of relief.
"Sharla," he said as he drove, "I dunno what that 'ere was, but that sure was nuts."
The sheep's voice came through the car once again. "Must have been some power-up," she responded. "A lot games like this have them hidden around, and this one's no exception. Anywho, I'm comin' up on your left."
The moment he looked over in that direction, Gideon saw Sharla's car passing his up, getting in front of him before speeding up a little bit more. The fox chuckled to himself before picking up speed as well.
They were now within the city that they saw while on the bridge. Now that they a lot closer to them, the skyscrapers were a lot more visible and looked even bigger as he quickly passed them by. Flashes of buildings with business logos on them and such flew by as he and Sharla both continued to put the pedal to the medal. The city streets were completely empty and branched off in a multitude of possible passages.
As Sharla made a right, so did Gideon. Behind him, meanwhile, he could hear the sounds of certain cars crashing into one another. And to his left a couple of other drivers could be seen going by.
After going down the direction they had been for a good distance, he started to see the water on his right, with simulated sunlight glistening down upon it. A distant car going to down a road way out from where they were could be seen, approaching some sort of ramp that seemed to dive straight into the water.
What's he doin'? Gideon thought as he saw this. Ain't he aware that he's gonna hit the water?
His internal question was answered when the fox caught sight of the car flying across the ramp and into the air. While it was in that state, the car he was seeing started to shift, transforming into a speedboat that hit the water with a splash before causing along.
"What the-" Gideon muttered to himself. "How'd that car just turn to a boat?"
He didn't worry about that for long, though; he and Sharla had a race to do. He had to remember that he was in the OASIS, after all, and it was in here that anything was possible. And that included cars that turned into motor-powered watercraft, he just realized.
Both Gideon and Sharla were reaching the end of the metropolis portion of this course. It was as he was following the sheep along that he began to notice something. An incline started to emerge from the paved road, and the fox's eyes began to widen. There was no other way to go at the current moment, leaving him no other option but to go over this ramp.
He watched as Sharla's car sped up and zoomed over it, and his eyes widened as he started to approach it. He heard clanking below him as the car he was riding started to zip across it and into the air a good height. The buildings started to look a tad smaller, and the fox started to feel a sensation of weightlessness while in midair.
"Woo-hoo!" he heard Sharla's voice exclaiming over the speakers.
Within the matter of a few seconds, his car was getting closer to the road once again. The moment it dropped back onto the paved path, he felt the vehicle swerve for a short moment before he regained control of it.
Gideon wasn't exactly the adrenaline fanatic that Sharla was, but he had to admit that this was actually becoming quite fun to him.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the OASIS...
The trek the two had been carrying was a bit of a treacherous one, but if she was correct in her presumptions about what lied ahead, it would all be worth it in the end.
Judy continued to grip tightly onto the sword in her paw, her back against Nick as a small horde of villains emerged and flocked where they were standing.
"Geez, it's like these things are never-ending," Nick muttered as they approached him, holding on tighter to the club-like weapon with a spiked ball at the end of it.
A dark figure started to run closer to him, stumbling a bit as it ran up to him. Lucky for him and Judy, the foes that were approaching were only zombies, which were a lower class of villain in this particular world in the OASIS. Now if it would have been something with a larger level of power, that would be when he would decide to flee the land.
As the zombie canid in tattered clothing went to attack at him, Nick swung the weapon towards it, knocking it onto its back. The villainous figure disappeared on the spot, indicating that the swing was enough to get rid of it.
Meanwhile, two much larger foes had Judy cornered, but that didn't mean she was willing to give up anytime soon. She leaped into the air, brought both legs out and delivered kicks both of the foes, causing them to stumble more than they previously were. Once she had landed on the ground, she swung her sword towards one of the zombies, and it disappeared upon getting hit with it. The remaining one grunted at her, making her ears perk up, and she quickly turned around to face it. Dropping the sword onto the grass below her, she sent several fierce kicks towards it while in midair, and it vanished.
Nick looked back over at Judy and grinned. "Takin' 'em out with Bun Kwon Do, eh, Carrots?" he remarked.
A groaning sound caught his attention, and the vulpine instinctively swung his club towards what had made the utterance. After that had been defeated, he quickly scanned his surroundings alongside Judy. The coast was clear, at least for now.
"Okay," the gray doe said. "No one's here, so it's probably smart we get to the stronghold while we still can."
"Right behind you," Nick replied, and started to dart in the direction that Judy started to run in.
Not much remained of the fortification that looked like it had been constructed centuries ago, and Nick and Judy were just realizing that upon stepping through the entrance of it. The moment they entered, the bridge they walked upon was mysteriously raised, like some invisible force caused it. They were officially trapped inside, with no route of escape.
"Okay, we're stuck in here," Nick addressed, doing nothing more than stating the obvious. "Let's just put our paws together and pray this isn't some sort of trap.
"There's some writing on the wall over there by that torch," Judy said, pointing to what had captured her attention. "Let's go check it out."
They slowly walked over to it, realizing that it was not just writing. To the right of the medieval words that had been etched on the stone, a symbol had been engraved. It looked like the kind of spiral that had been associated with hypnosis in the movies.
"What is this?" Judy quietly asked, placing her paw directly on where the spiral was.
Nick immediately started to become panicked. "Don't touch that, Fluff. That could be a-"
The symbol started to spin upon the wall and cast a fluorescent glow within the dark fortress. A few seconds had passed, and the walls around them started to shake, as if an earthquake were about to commence where they stood. Judy let out a small gasp, and Nick braced himself for what his brain presumed was about to come next.
But nothing happened after that. After that small shaking sensation, the room they occupied remained perfectly still, and the symbol on the wall stopped moving.
Nick started to mutter, "I don't know what the heck that was just about, but I'm-"
"Congratulations, fellow seekers," a deep voice bellowed, echoing across the room. It sounded as if it had come directly from the heavens, as there was no one in the room except for the two of them.
"Who was that?" the vulpine asked, now staring up at the ceiling above him.
"Come collect the artifact that will lead you to the true reward," the unknown voice continued.
Before the fox or rabbit could ask any question, they both felt the floor fall from beneath their paws. The two of them both shouted as the surroundings of the stronghold went away.
Not even a few seconds later, they were standing on the very top of a hillside that outlooked both the castle and some pastures that encompassed it. A gust of wind bristled against their fur, and they both started to see something descending down to their level.
"The key," Judy muttered aloud upon seeing what it was.
The key that she pertained to stopped floating and landing directly in her paws. She gripped onto it and looked back at Nick.
"You were right about where we would find it," the fox said, smiling back at the gray doe.
"Hey, you two," someone said behind them, causing both of them look and see who it was.
Turning their heads in the direction the voice came from, they saw Jack and a vixen they could only assume was the "Skye" they spoke of earlier standing on the other side of the land.
"What?" Nick said. "You mean Jack beat us to this and got a hold of the key first?"
"You know, something just came to mind, Slick," Judy remarked.
"What is it, Carrots?"
"Where's Wolford and the others right now? I figured they would have figured things out and be not too far away from here."
"You see?" Fangmeyer inquired out of irritability as he lead the others out of the small cave they had been in. "You see why you don't follow something just because you have a dream about it? I knew that key wasn't gonna be in these caves!"
"It's alright, Fangmeyer," Clawhauser said from behind him, doing his best to see the positive in the current circumstances. "No one knows for sure until ya try."
"Yeah," Wolford chimed in. "It was worth a shot, you know?"
The tiger of the group continued, "But I just feel that we could've looked elsewhere by now and probably get find the dang thing."
Just then, the chiming sounds coming from all three of their communicators filled the silent cave, and all of them instinctively looked to see what they had been notified of.
"Are you freakin' kidding me?" Fangmeyer uttered.
"What's wrong?" Wolford and Clawhauser asked at the same time.
"Someone already found the key!"