14: Garbage Out


  "Error 404, file not found." Arial read, disappointed, "And no I didn't enter the URL incorrectly, I mean, I did enter it correctly," She was flustered.

"Run the Eckert/Mauchley code-breaker on it, maybe it really means something else," Dak said, also concerned that this whole annoying adventure had really been for naught, in which case none of it would be tax-deductible.

Arial ran the code breaking program, and it responded, "Call your webmaster."

Dak and Arial looked at each other, disgusted.

"Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think there's we have to worry about someone using this vital information to take over the world, do you?" Dak sighed.

"Well, I mean, it all depends," Arial said, thoughtfully. "Let's say the President was using the web, he does, you know, and couldn't figure it out and instead of calling the White House webmaster he asked some cabinet member (Gore was busy, you see) and they didn't know either, and pretty soon the word got out, he was branded a wimp and lost the election. The entire American public, sick and tired of the process went nuts and anarchy ensued, someone got hold of the button and destroyed the world." She paused for emphasis, "Well, it could happen..." she trailed off.

Dak paused to think about her scenario. Arial thought about it too.

Then, like the old married couple they would have been had they just gotten married a few years ago when both wanted to but decided it was more hip to be "long term companions," or "partners" than husband and wife, the two of them said simultaneously, "Naaa."

"So the question is," Arial said, "Is this the real stone, and all these years the whole McGuffin thing has just been some kind of cosmic joke, or is this a phony and the real one is still out there, possibly waiting to wreck havoc at some later date?"

"Yes," Dak agreed, "That is the question. Time to get out your Carbon-14 dating compact."

Arial shuffled through her purse.

"You did bring it with you, didn't you?" Dak asked, afraid he knew the answer.

"Well, you made me change purses so I could carry the laptop, and I must have left it in my Fendi..." Arial said, once again managing to place the blame on Dak, as she always could. "You rushed me," she added, for effect.

Dak didn't like taking the blame for stuff that really wasn't his fault, but he'd learned it was easier than arguing about it--especially because it was impossible to win an argument with Arial.

"I guess I'll have to do it the old-fashioned way," Dak said, obviously not pleased with the prospect.

The old fashioned way involved licking. A trained tongue, such as Dak's, could not only distinguish various vintages of fine wines, but the age of an item. When Arial first heard about this talent, she was relieved to know that Dak could always fall back on it and work at county fair's guessing people's ages--even if that did mean licking them. It was then he informed her that his estimates had a margin of error of 500 years, which made it an impractical way to just a person's age. This pleased Arial even more, because she had told him she was four years younger than she really was. But he knew this just seconds after she handed him her wallet for a reading.

Dak was well known for his "wallet readings," where he'd read someone's wallet the way someone else would read a palm. He'd invented the process and popularized it through his best-selling book, "Wallet Reading: Your Personality in your Pocket." Sometimes he just used common sense and figured things out from the contents, but other times he surprised even himself and came up with things he couldn't possibly have known, like the guy who was an identical twin separated at birth, spending all his free time looking for his brother.

Dak stuck out his tongue and licked the stone, then grimaced, "Geez, I hate it when they roll stuff around in... well, you know, just to make it taste older... the thing's no more than two years old,' Dak said, wiping his tongue on the Kentucky Fried Chicken moist towelette Arial handed him.

"Give or take 500 years..." Arial added.

"That's right," Dak said, spitting little bits of the towelette out of his mouth as Arial used her pocket flashlight to search for other clues.

"Help me turn it over," She said. The thing weighed a ton, give or take 127 pounds (Arial could guess weights). The back was blank, like the original was supposed to be.

Dak and Arial both held the stone, then both let go at the same time, thinking the other one was still holding it. The stone fell to the ground and broke into 57 pieces, give or take 10.

"I know, I know, it's my fault," Dak said, taking the blame immediately to avoid an argument.

"No, it was my fault," Arial said, surprising even herself.

"No, it really isn't," Dak said, "It's not anyone's fault," he added.

"Then why'd you say it was yours," she questioned?

"It's either no ones fault or both our faults," Dak explained.

"Why couldn't it be just my fault. Or yours?" Arial demanded.

"It doesn't matter whose fault it is, the damage is done," Dak whispered.

"It always matters, because otherwise how will we know who to blame later on when we're having another argument and want to bring it up," Arial explained.

"We don't have time for this now, Arial," he said.

"That's always your excuse when you just don't want to discuss something," she said. She was right, too, it was his normal excuse, but this time he also happened to be right--he was fairly sure that the impact would have set off an seismographic alarm, or, at the very least, someone must have heard it.

"We'll finish this discussion if we get back to the car alive," he said, grabbing her hand. His head was already planning the escape route, starting with the door knob.

But then, just as he was reaching for the knob, his eye caught a glimpse of fragment of the stone, laying near the door. It was from the bottom edge of the slab, and it had writing on it they hadn't seen before.

It read... the alarm on Arial's watch went off. It was 5 p.m. and they had to rendezvous with the professor, pronto before the entire museum was closed and they were trapped inside the airless vault for the night.

Chapter 15: All Rights Reserved

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