13: The Value of Nothing

Arial tapped on her watch. Dak sighed.

  They continued down the stairs and found a room marked, Cleaning Supplies, just as the Professor told them they would. This seemingly innocuous room contained the museum's most secret artifacts in the belief that no one would bother to look there. But how many cleaning rooms had high-tech locks on them?

Once again, Dak's watch was employed to break the password. Five seconds passed. Nothing. "Must be a really hard password," Dak thought. After thirty seconds, Dak shook his wrist as if this would shake some sense back into the watch, lest it break passwords as badly as it told time.

After two full minutes, it was pretty clear that the watch wasn't going to be enough.

"Now, aren't you glad I suggested the mylar handprint? Arial said, blinking sweetly.

"What would I do without you?" Dak replied, equally sweetly.

"Be tortured and die," Arial responded.

Dak held the back of his hand in front of his chin and proceeded to scrape at the base of his thumb. Then he peeled off what looked like a layer of skin from the back of his hand. It was, in actuality, a mylar handprint layer, a clever trick Arial learned while reading "The KGB's Greatest Hits," written by the head of the KGB himself after the KBG was dismantled. It was not exactly a best seller, being poorly translated, extremely technical, and totally lacking any good sex scenes. But Arial was impressed by the Russian technology, and since then always carried mylar handprint material inside a hand-creme bottle in her purse.

Dak placed the handprint against the shiny black code panel, then used his watch again. This time, the combination of the password and the handprint caused the door to click and slide away automatically.

Paula had now purchased every single post card available, a small reproduction (cast in a non-organic polymer that would break if you dropped it--Paula asked) of the same male nude Arial had admired, the pre-Raphaelite poster, anything they sold that was made of metal, and a coffee table book displaying the homes of the stars in Malibu. She hadn't realized Cher had such a thing for aquamarine. The courteous staff was only too happy to hold the items for her while she went to her next destination, the lovely Piece of Mind Café, located amid ancient works of art. Dak had told her to order the quiche and she was following his instructions to the letter.

As the Professor forced himself to laugh at yet another of Bernhard's Germanic jokes, it became clear why there were so few German stand up comics.

Meanwhile, back in the "cleaning supply" room Dak and Arial were agog, they'd never seen anything like this plunder. It was like something out of a dream, or the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. Was that the real Mona Lisa, sitting in the corner next to a priceless Tiffany lamp. And if so, what were they displaying at the Louvre?

Dak spotted it first--a smooth, flat, black stone. The Professor had told them it was a Basalt tablet. Dak said it sounded like a pain reliever. The professor didn't get the ad-man joke. The Professor went on and on about basalt having a high concentration of iron and magnesium, how it was volcanic, and how the rocks the astronauts brought back from the moon were also basalt. Dak only cared what it looked like so he'd know it when he saw it, and now he saw it and knew it.

It was covered with mysterious chiseled markings, then a bunch of HTML codes. It was all Greek to Dak. Arial opened her purse and extracted a tiny lap top computer, a Pentium 200 with 64 megabytes of memory and an active color matrix LCD screen, to be exact. They used it for computer generated proposals and slide shows, anything that required portable publishing.

Her hands were almost invisible as they scurried around the keyboard, entering the codes. She typed 200 words per minute and, according to Dak's notoriously inaccurate watch, it took her only 74 seconds to enter the codes.

She went to Print Preview to check the results.

"The ancient secret is..." Arial began...

Chapter 14: Garbage Out

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