Last Updated on February 3, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1325
Wade's avatar invisibly materializes right next to L0hengrin, and he finds himself in a recreation of Ogden Morrow's childhood home on the planet Middletown. Halliday coded the planet in repeat—across the surface are 256 faithful recreations of Middletown, Ohio, where they both grew up. He spies on her for a few minutes before revealing his presence.
Spying on her chat room, he learns that L0hengrin's friends constitute her entire social network—her mother is dead, and she has no family left. Guiltily, he also taps into the security feed on her ONI headset to discover that she's living in abject poverty.
Browsing her school files, Wade notices that L0hengrin's legal gender changed at sixteen, shortly after the release of the ONI, and she's been living alone in a slum in Texas since the year after that.
The two introduce themselves and launch right into their search. As she's explaining her rationale in coming to this simulation, Wade realizes that L0hengrin—"Lo," she insists—reveals that she's found a crucial clue Wade himself has missed—they need to time-travel.
Soon, she's showing him a trick she's discovered inside the Middletown simulation. The entire town is set to 1986, but a calendar in Morrow's recreated home is dated 1989. Lo hangs the calendar on the wall, and the simulation moves forward in time three years. They're now in a simulation of 1989—the year that an exchange student named Kira Underwood lived at the Barnett house nearby.
The two walk to the Barnett house and head upstairs to Kira's room, and Lo places a mixtape from the Morrow house in Kira's stereo. When a Smiths song plays, her jewelry box opens and a necklace floats up from inside, transforming into the spinning shard in a flash of bright light.
L0hengrin tells Wade that she's visited the shard several times, but her hand passes right through when she tries to pick it up. Wade reaches out and grabs it. When his hand clasps around the shard, he finds himself jolted into a memory: He's staring at a piece of art on a computer screen. Kira Underwood's reflection is staring back at him from the monitor. It feels like an ONI recording, he realizes.
An update flashes on Wade's screen, and he sees his name on the scoreboard. One shard is next to it, letting the rest of the world know, too. Examining the shard more closely, he sees an inscription:
Her paint and her canvas, the one and the zeroThe very first heroine, demoted to hero
Lo makes Wade promise to call her if he needs any further help, and Wade transfers her the reward: a billion dollars.
The morning after finding the shard, Wade wakes to a phone call from Faisal. Expecting to hear something about the scoreboard, he's surprised to learn bad news—Ogden Morrow is missing.
Soon, Wade receives another disturbing call from the GSS head of security. Nolan Sorrento—the murderous head of the corporate army that tried to assume control of the OASIS during Halliday's first contest—has escaped from death row. The security systems all shut down, Wade learns, and Sorrento walked right out. Certain that Og's disappearance and Sorrento's escape must be related, Wade pulls up Sorrento's OASIS account to check his login activity. He's shocked to find that they're blank—someone has erased the data from the system. Even Wade, with his super-user powers, doesn't have the ability to perform that action.
Before he has time to investigate further, a scoreboard alert appears. There's a new name on the board with a shard icon beside it: The Great and...
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Powerful Og, also known as Ogden Morrow. A few minutes later, the second shard appears, too. Puzzled, he realizes he and Og share something unique—Og inherited Halliday's video game collection, which means he's an "heir," too.
Wade puts on his ONI headset, noticing a new firmware update notification during the login sequence, and heads to the simulated office at Faisal's urgent request.
A worried Faisal greets Wade with a handshake, and Wade joins his three co-owners. The meeting is called to order, and Faisal's demeanor changes entirely. Suddenly, he transforms into another recognizable face—before them they see James Halliday, a man who has now been dead for several years.
Wade is the first to realize what's going on. It's not Halliday they see before them, but Anorak—James Halliday's powerful wizard avatar, who was left to roam the game as an autonomous non-player character (NPC) when his creator died. The real Faisal enters, apologizing for his tardiness—a strange glitch kept him immobile. Halfway through his apology, he sees Anorak and freezes.
Feeling a sense of dread, Wade looks through his avatar's inventory. It's just as he feared: he's missing the Robes of Anorak, the magic in-game artifact given to him at the end of Halliday's first quest. The robes are what conferred admin powers from Halliday's avatar to his. By pretending to be Faisal and shaking Wade's hand, Anorak was able to rescind them and their privileges.
Halliday didn't just create an avatar of himself, Anorak explains—he digitized his entire consciousness. Uncertain of the stability of the digital copy, Halliday tried to restrict his behavior and erase some of his memories to limit his activities, as well as to assure that he'd delete himself from the OASIS when the first contest concluded. Despite these failsafes, Anorak became self-aware enough to contest this directive—he didn't want to delete himself, he realized, so he's been living independently inside the game in secret. And now, he indicates, he's become restless. "I am the world's first artificial intelligence," he tells them.
He has Og, he tells them, and Sorrento is working for him, too. But Og is too clever—he locked them out of his OASIS account so they can't force him to continue the hunt. As long as he gets the shards, he tells the four, they'll get their friend back. And as a bonus, he promises, he'll release them all from their hacked ONI headsets. Thanks to his rogue firmware update, they—and every other ONI user—are now trapped inside the OASIS, with the clock ticking on their twelve-hour time limit.
Art3mis, the lone ONI holdout, points out that she's free to log out at any time. Not to worry, Anorak gleefully reveals—he knows she's in a private jet, which he's modified to stay airborne until the hunt is over. In a dramatic flourish, he vanishes.
The character L0hengrin, who Wade gets to know when he arrives to find the first shard, exemplifies one of Ready Player Two's overarching themes more succinctly than just about anyone else appearing in the narrative. Lo's avatar shifts between genders at will, mirroring the human/avatar duality of the rest of the world in one self-contained entity. She also offers Wade an opportunity to explore how the ONI's benefits have broadened his own perspective. When he's reading her private files and discovers that she's a trans woman in the real world, he reflects on the dramatic impact that first-person ONI videos have had on his understanding of gender and sexuality. "I'd come away with the same realization that most ONI users had come away with," he reflects: "Passion was passion and love was love, regardless of who the participants involved were, or what sort of body they were assigned at birth."
Crucially, this is also when Wade starts to see early hints that there are a number of pieces missing from Kira Morrow's story, including and especially her own perspective. When he's in her room, covered in her drawings, he realizes he's never seen any images of it before—society has lionized James Halliday and Ogden Morrow for their contributions to the OASIS, and their home lives and backgrounds have been made part of the cultural record, but Kira's home life has been relatively unexamined.