There appear to be far more homeless people lining the streets than when Wade first arrived. He watches some of them using the OASIS from GSS’s free access stations. The van pulls up to 101 IOI Plaza in downtown Columbus. The three buildings precisely resemble the IOI headquarters Wade visited inside the OASIS. Wade is taken inside to the “IOI Indentured Employee Induction Center.” His handcuffs are removed and his retinas are scanned. He is then fed into a security line where he sees hundreds of other indents in the same grey jumpsuit and shoes. Ahead of him, he sees several people get taken aside as miniature pieces of technology are plucked from their bodies. Wade passes the checkpoints without incident.
This passage makes clear that one of the most oppressive things you can do to people in the year 2045 is take away their access to the OASIS. Whereas ordinarily we might expect prisoners to be smuggling in drugs, money, or weapons, the new IOI indents simply try to smuggle in the equipment they need to log into the OASIS.
Wade is given a series of tests to determine how he can best be put to use by IOI. He intentionally fails all the questions related to Halliday and the Easter egg hunt, as he doesn’t want to be placed in the Oology Division and risk encountering Sorrento. Wade is “awarded” the position of OASIS Technical Support Representative II and informed that once his debt is paid off, he may be able to gain a permanent position at IOI. However, Wade knows this is all just a show; in reality, it is not actually possible for indents to pay their debt. Added fees mean that debts increase rather than decrease over time, and once indentured, “you would probably remain indentured for life.” To many, this is still better than a life on the streets.
It is becoming more and more obvious that Wade knows what he is doing, even if readers do not. The fact that Wade knows so much about IOI’s system of indenturement indicates that he has researched it in advance and may have even gotten himself indentured on purpose. However, given that—as Wade himself points out—it is impossible to escape indenturement, it is hard to understand why Wade would have chosen to undergo this voluntarily.
Wade is forced to sign an “Indenturement Contract.” He explains that this is all part of his plan. He is washed, physically inspected, vaccinated, and forced to watch a looping video entitled: “Indentured Servitude: Your Fast Track from Debt to Success!” He is then fitted with a security anklet that will paralyze him if he tries to escape or remove it. An “observation and communication tag” (OCT) is then pierced into his ear. Finally, a camera is attached to the back of his head. An HR computer speaks to him directly through his earpiece, instructing him to go to a nearby cafeteria where he is served bland food. Afterward, he is given five minutes to use the bathroom, and seven hours to sleep.
Wade is now fully immersed in a nightmare corporate prison dystopia. Every aspect of his identity and ability to express himself has been stripped away; he has so little agency that he is even told by an HR computer when to go to the bathroom. Meanwhile, the intensity of the surveillance he is placed under seems impossible to escape. The more readers learn about the IOI indenturement center, the less likely it seems that Wade will be able to escape his fate.
Wade’s sleeping capsule is inside a “Hab Block,” which reminds him of a mausoleum. The capsule is shaped like a coffin, with a camera attached to watch Wade as he sleeps. There is an entertainment console and visor attached to the wall which plays only one channel: IOI-N, the official company channel showing news and propaganda. Wade learns that he can access further entertainment options once he has achieved three consecutive positive performance reviews. The only TV show available is a company-produced show titled Tommy Queue, about an indentured OASIS tech rep. Wade stays awake as long as possible watching Tommy Queue on repeat. He torments himself by thinking about Art3mis until he falls asleep.
The fact that Wade’s sleeping capsule resembles a coffin and the “Hab Block” a mausoleum is no coincidence. Being indentured to IOI is a kind of living death. Although indents are kept alive through food, accommodation, health checks, and other forms of monitoring, their lives are so restricted and devoid of vibrancy that they can hardly be considered lives in any meaningful sense.