???? "You'd kill me?" I said. "To win a video game contest?" ???? "Don't pretend to be na?ve, Wade," Sorrento said. "There are billions of dollars at stake here, along with control of one of the world's most profitable corporations, and of the OASIS itself. This is much more than a video game contest. It always has been." He leaned forward. "But you can still come out a winner here, kid. If you help us, we'll still give you the five million. You can retire at age eighteen and spend the rest of your days living like royalty. Or you can die in the next few seconds. It's your call. But ask yourself this question--if your mother were still alive, what would she want you to do?" ???? That last question would have really pissed me off, if I hadn't been so scared. "What's to stop you from killing me after I give you what you want?" I asked. ???? "Regardless of what you may think, we don't want to have to kill anyone unless it's absolutely necessary. Besides, there are two more gates, right?" He shrugged. "We might need your help to figure those, out, too. Personally, I doubt it. But my superiors feel differently. Regardless, you don't really have a choice at this point, do you?" ???? I considered giving them what they wanted. I really did. But I thought it through, and I couldn't come up with a single good reason why they would let me live, even if I helped them clear the First Gate. The only move that made sense was to kill me and take me out of the running. They sure as hell weren't going to give me five million dollars, or leave me alive to tell the media how IOI had blackmailed me. Especially if there really was a remote-controlled bomb planted in my trailer to serve as evidence. ???? No. The way I saw it, there were really only two possibilities. Either they were bluffing, or they were going to kill me, whether I helped them or not. ???? I made my decision and summoned my courage. ???? "Sorrento," I said, trying to hide the fear in my voice, "I want you and your bosses to know something. You're never going to find Halliday's Egg. You know why? Because he was smarter than all of you put together. It doesn't matter how much money you have or who you try to blackmail. You're going to lose." ???? I tapped my logout icon and my avatar began to dematerialize in front of him. He didn't seem surprised. He just looked at me sadly and shook his head. "Stupid move, kid," he said, just before my visor went black. ???? I sat there in the darkness of my van, wincing and waiting for the detonation. But a full minute passed and nothing happened. ???? I slid my visor up and pulled off my gloves with shaking hands. As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, I let out a tentative sigh of relief. It had been a bluff after all. Sorrento had been playing an elaborate mind game with me. An effective one, too. ???? As I was gulping down a bottle of water, I realized that I should log back in and warn Aech and Art3mis. The Sixers would go after them next. I was pulling my gloves back on when I heard the explosion.