Wade is watching the 1985 movie Explorers when the IOI corporate police arrive at his apartment in Columbus. He sees them pull up and immediately orders Max to initiate lockdown mode of the apartment’s security system. Four cops stand outside Wade’s War Door, and one announces that they are here because Wade has outstanding payments on his IOI Visa card. As the record shows he is unemployed, he is being taken for mandatory indenturement. When he has repaid the debt alongside any additional fees and penalties, he will be free to go. The police will be seizing his property and selling it.
Indenturement refers to a condition whereby a person is forced to perform labor in order to repay a debt. It is not quite the same as slavery, but there are similarities. Furthermore, claims of fictitious debt are often used by slavers in order to place and keep people in slavery. At this point it is unclear whether Wade’s charge of debt is fictitious or not.
The cops begin to cut through the War Door. Wade knows he will have about five minutes before they are able to get through, and quickly swallows two anti-anxiety pills he’s saved for the occasion. Inside the OASIS he closes his windows, checks the Scoreboard—which remains the same, with Art3mis in first place after having obtained the Crystal Key—and logs out. Wade then deletes Max and detonates an “incendiary device” that melts his entire computer. At that moment, the cops enter Wade’s apartment and grab him, putting a ball gag in his mouth. They announce that they are placing Wade under “corporate arrest” and insult him for having melted his computer, which he could have sold to help pay his debt.
The nightmarish situation Wade suddenly finds himself in is alarming. What is more shocking, however, is the fact that Wade seems to be so prepared for it. He has saved anti-anxiety pills to take and has prepared an incendiary device to melt his computer—hardly ordinary preparations. Perhaps Wade simply knew it was likely that IOI would arrest him in order to take him out of the running—or perhaps there is something else afoot.
The cops tear off Wade’s haptic suit and give him an uncomfortable gray jumpsuit and plastic shoes to wear instead. They then load him into the van next to two other arrestees, both of whom are strapped into their seats and wearing visors. A cop puts a visor on Wade and, as they drive through Columbus, Wade is forced to watch a beach at sunset. He figures the IOI police play this to keep new indents calm during the drive. Wade pushes his visor off and looks out the window, curious to see the outside for the first time since he arrived in Columbus.
Wade’s decision to take off his visor and look out the window for the first time since he moved to Columbus is significant. Like the OASIS itself, the beach image that IOI plays for new indents is designed to make people forget their problems through a pleasurable “escape hatch.” However, in this moment Wade doesn’t want to escape into illusion, but rather confront the ugly truth of reality.