The Invitation

A news bulletin broke in to your video feed, announcing that Theodore Avery has died during the night. You’ve heard of Avery, of course. Everyone has. He is the videogame designer responsible for creating the MULTIVERSE, a massively multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis. The unprecedented success of the MULTIVERSE had made Avery one of the wealthiest people in the world.

At first, you did’t understand why the media was making such a big deal of the billionaire’s death. After all, the people of Planet Earth have other concerns. The ongoing energy crisis, catastrophic climate change, widespread famine, poverty, disease, half a dozen wars.

Normally, the newsfeeds didn’t interrupt everyone’s interactive sitcoms and soap operas unless something really major had happened. Like the outbreak of some new killer virus, or another major city vanishing in a mushroom cloud. Big stuff like that. As famous as he was, Avery’s death should have warranted only a brief segment on the evening news, so the unwashed masses could shake their heads in envy when the newscasters announced the obscenely large amount of money that would be doled out to the rich man’s heirs.

But that is the rub. Theodore Avery had no heirs. He had died a sixty-seven-year-old bachelor, with no living relatives and, by most accounts, without a single friend. He’d spent the last fifteen years of his life in self-imposed isolation, during which time—if the rumors were to be believed—he’d gone completely insane.

So the real jaw-dropping news that January morning, the news that had everyone from Toronto to Tokyo crapping in their cornflakes, concerned the contents of Avery’s last will and testament, and the fate of his vast fortune. Avery had prepared a short video message, along with instructions that it be released to the world media at the time of his death. He’d also arranged to have a copy of the video e-mailed to every single MULTIVERSE user that same morning.

You hear a familiar electronic chime when a message arrived in your inbox, just a few seconds after you first saw that news bulletin.

It is a video message from Theodore Avery to every MULTIVERSE user. His video message is a meticulously constructed short film titled “The Invitation.” The entire video is just over five minutes in length and views similar to a music video or a wrestling promo.

The Invitation begins with the sound of trumpets, the opening of a cheesy song from the 80’s. The song plays over a dark screen for the first few seconds, until the trumpets are joined by a guitar, and that’s when Avery appears. But he’s not a sixty-seven-year-old man. He looks just as he did on the cover of Time magazine back in 2021, a tall, thin, healthy man in his forties, with unkempt hair and thick glasses. He’s also wearing the same clothing he wore on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine: faded jeans and a vintage Space Invaders T-shirt.

Then it becomes clear that Avery is at a high-school dance in a large gymnasium. Avery is dancing, badly but he looks like he is having fun. Grinning maniacally, he spins in rapid circles, swinging his arms and head in time with the song. But Avery has no dance partner. Then Avery begins to lip sync to the words of the song, bobbing his head to the music and playing air guitar. Then he abruptly stops dancing and makes a cutting motion with his right hand, silencing the music. At the same moment, the dancers and the gymnasium behind him vanish, and the scene around him suddenly changes.

Avery now stands at the front of a funeral parlor, next to an open casket. A second, much older Avery lies inside the casket, his body emaciated and ravaged by cancer. Golden arcade tokens cover each of his eyelids. The younger Avery gazes down at the corpse of his older self with sadness, then turns to address the camera.

Avery snaps his fingers and a scroll appears in his right hand. He opens it and it unfurls to the floor. He begins to read.

Theodore: “I, Theodore William Avery, being of sound mind and disposing memory, do hereby make, publish, and declare this instrument to be my last will and testament…”

He reads a paragraph or so of legal garbage before dropping the scroll.

Theodore: “Ah forget it. “Even at that speed, it would take me a month to read the whole damn thing. Let me just give you the highlights.”

The funeral parlor vanishes, and the scene changes once again. Avery now stands in front of an immense bank vault door.

Theodore: “My entire estate, including a controlling share of stock in my company, Good Guy Simulations, is to be placed in escrow until such time as a single condition I have set forth in my will is met. The first individual to meet that condition will inherit my entire fortune, currently valued in excess of two hundred and forty billion dollars.”

The vault door swings open and Avery walks inside. The interior of the vault is enormous, and it contains a huge stack of gold bars, roughly the size of a large house.

Theodore: “Here’s the dough I’m putting up for grabs. Now, boys and girls, you may ask yourself, what do you have to do to get your hands on all this cash? Well, I will tell you in just a minute. . . .”

Avery snaps his fingers again and the vault disappears. In the same instant, Avery shrinks and morphs into a small boy wearing brown corduroys and an Alf T-shirt. The young Avery stands in a cluttered living room with burnt orange carpeting, woodpaneled walls, and tacky 80’s decor. A small 21” tv sits on top of a larger non working tv in front of him with an original NES hooked up to it.

Theodore: “This is the first videogame system I ever owned, a Nintendo Entertainment System I received on Christmas in 1986.”

The young Avery sits down in front of the tv, picks up a game cartridge, blows in it, and begins to play.

_Theodore: “This is the first game I ever played, It was called Super Mario Brothers. A story about a pair of Italian brothers that left their job as plumbers to save a princess from a fire breathing turtle dragon fucker. The game consisted of multiple levels and was very hard to beat from beginning to end. But the team who created the game, hid secret warp zones that would launch players ahead a few levels, to aid them in their quest. If you found the warp zone, you could skip some of the more challenging levels and go right to the boss level, ultimately being able to complete the game with the few lives you were given.”

Theodore: “This was the very first videogame Easter egg I ever found.”_

The young Avery drops his joystick and stands. As he does, the living room fades away, and the scene shifts again. Avery, now an adult, stands in a dim cavern, where light from unseen torches flickers off the damp walls. In the same instant, Avery’s appearance also changes once again, as he morphs into his famous MULTIVERSE avatar, Zargon —a tall, robed wizard with a slightly more handsome version of the adult Avery’s face (minus the eyeglasses). Zargon is dressed in his trademark black robes with purple trim.

Theodore: “Before I died, I created an Easter egg and hid it somewhere inside the most popular videogame of all time—the MULTIVERSE. The first person to find my Easter egg will inherit my entire fortune and gain creative control over the entire MULTIVERSE.”

Theodore: “The egg is well hidden. But don’t worry. I’ve left a few clues lying around to get everyone started. And here’s the first one.”

Zargon makes a grand gesture with his right hand, and three keys appear, spinning slowly in the air in front of him. They are ornate appear to be made of strange materials. One made of green gemstone, one of polished metal, and one of gold. As the keys continue to spin, Zargon recites a piece of verse, and as he speaks eachline, it appears briefly in flaming subtitles across the bottom of screen:

Theodore:
Three hidden keys open three secret gates
Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And the one with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits

As he finishes, the green and metal keys dissapear, leaving only the golden key, which now hangs on a chain around Zargon’s neck. He continues farther into the dark cavern. A few seconds later, he arrives at a pair of massive wooden doors set into the cavern’s rocky wall. Zargon throws open the double doors, revealing an immense treasure room filled with piles of glittering gold coins, golden dice of all number of side, jewel encrusted video game consoles and controllers and other riches. Then he steps into the open doorway and faces the camera.

Theodore: “So without further ado, let the hunt for Avery’s Easter egg begin!”

Then he vanishes in a flash of light, leaving the viewer to gaze through the open doorway at the glittering mounds of treasure that lay beyond. Then the screen fades to black.. . .

At the end of the video, Avery included a link to his personal website, which had changed drastically on the morning of his death. For over a decade, the only thing posted there had been a short looping animation that showed his avatar, Zargon, sitting in a medieval library, hunched over a scarred worktable, mixing potions and poring over dusty spellbooks, with a large painting of four warriors inside a glass orb visible on the wall behind him.

But now that animation was gone, and in its place there was a highscore list like those that used to appear in old coin-operated videogames. The list had ten numbered spots, and each displayed the initials TWA 0000000—

HIGH SCORES

TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000
TWA – 0000000

At the bottom of the page is a symbol that leads to a link to Zargon’s Almanac, a journal of Zargon’s thoughts, which ranged from favorite movies, to thoughts on religion, to the Coke vs Pepsi discussion. The almanac included no direct passages about Theodore’s real life events. The Hunt, as the contest is now known, quickly wove its way into global culture. Like winning the lottery, finding Avery’s Easter egg became a popular fantasy among adults and children alike. It was a game anyone could play, and at first, there seemed to be no right or wrong way to play it. The only thing Zargon’s Almanac seemed to indicate was that a familiarity with Avery’s various obsessions would be essential to finding the egg.

A new subculture was born, composed of the millions of people who now devoted every free moment of their lives to searching for the egg. At first, these individuals were known simply as “egg hunters,” but this was quickly truncated to the nickname “gunters.”

During the first year of the Hunt, being a gunter was highly fashionable, and nearly every MULTIVERSE user claimed to be one. But when the first anniversary of Avery’s death arrived, the fervor surrounding the contest began to die down. An entire year had passed and no one had found anything. Not a single key or gate. Part of the problem was the sheer size of the MULTIVERSE. It contained thousands of worlds where the keys might be hidden, and it could take a gunter years to conduct a thorough search of just one of them. Truth is that no one had any clue about where to start looking for it.

After 5 years, the public lost all interest in the contest and the egg moved in to the realm of urban legend. People began to assume it was all just a hoax or that it was hidden too well to find. Meanwhile, the MULTIVERSE continued to evolve and grow in popularity, protected from takeover attempts and legal challenges by the terms of Avery’s will and the army of rabid lawyers he had tasked with administering his estate.

Each year more gunters called it quits, concluding that Avery had indeed made the egg impossible to find. But not you . On the morning of March 29th, 2045, an avatar’s name appeared at the top of the Scoreboard, for the whole world to see. After five long years, the golden key was found, by a poor twenty something from nowhere.

That kid was one of you and this is the story of how you became a legend.

The Invitation

The Egg Hunt TimApplesauce