The chapter opens with a chat conversation between Wade and Art3mis, who until now has been ignoring Wade because they are competitors and thus “sworn enemies.” Art3mis points out that everyone wants to know who Wade is in real life, and laments that people think she is a man in reality. Wade admits that he has had a crush on her since before they even met. Art3mis responds that he doesn’t really know her, and they continue to playfully quiz each other about their “real” identities. Wade suggests that they have an “online romance,” but Art3mis brushes him off.
Once again, Art3mis is shown to be conflicted. She cannot decide whether she wants to continue her friendship with Wade, as shown by her oscillation between wanting to speak to him and ignoring his chats. She also seems conflicted about the extent to which people recognize her for who she really is. She is annoyed that people think she is a man, yet insists that Wade does not actually know her.
Art3mis tells Wade that she is 19 and studying Poetry and Creative Writing in college. They realize that they are both orphans. Art3mis says that she basically looks like her avatar. Wade asks if they can keep chatting and Art3mis refuses, warning that if he emails her she will block him. They say goodbye and end the chat.
Wade’s crush on Art3mis is sincere, yet he doesn’t always respect her boundaries. Although she previously expressed hesitation about their being friends, Wade ignores this and chooses to pursue the friendship anyway.
Wade starts emailing Art3mis. At first, she doesn’t reply, but after she does they begin corresponding every day, then meeting in chatrooms. They play games, watch movies, and listen to music. Wade is stunned by how much they have in common, admitting: “I’d never had such a powerful, immediate connection with another human being before.” He stops caring that they are supposed to be rivals. Although Wade stopped attending school when he moved to Columbus, he still has enough credits to graduate in June. Now that he is no longer in school, he is supposed to be dedicating himself full-time to the hunt, but all he can focus on is Art3mis.
Although Wade’s life is in most ways far from normal, there are several moments—such as this passage—which remind readers that beneath his fame and trauma, he is still an ordinary 18-year-old boy. As such, he is prone to the weaknesses that afflict teenage boys, including letting themselves be distracted from their goals by crushes on girls.
Wade spends the rest of his time raising the level of his avatar by completing quests, some of which he does with Art3mis. He continues to think about the quatrain, but remains stumped by its meaning. Finally, he has a breakthrough while watching 1980s cereal commercials one morning. He realizes that the “captain” and “whistle” mentioned in the clue refer to Cap’n Crunch. However, he still has no idea about the location of the key.
Whereas at the beginning of the hunt success came to Wade in one quick and rather smooth swoop, now his progress is more piecemeal and irregular. This may be because the challenges have become more difficult; however, it may also be because he is distracted by Art3mis.
Meanwhile, Wade dreams of meeting Art3mis in real life, and neglects his friendship with Aech. Aech warns that Wade’s relationship with Art3mis is risky, but Wade proceeds anyway. When Wade and Art3mis travel around the OASIS together, they do so in disguise. The only occasion when they don’t do this is when they perform in the Rocky Horror Picture Show together. Wade describes this as the best night of his life; after the performance, Art3mis kisses him for the first time. He decides to reveal his feelings to her.
At this point, Wade and Art3mis’ relationship appears to be too good to be true. This point is emphasized by Aech’s warnings and the fact that Art3mis was initially resistant to even being friends with Wade, let alone more.