- Dad’ll bite your head off. Or your fingers. And definitely he’ll take your tablet. You’ll be grounded –that’s a dead cert.
Bit barely heard what Beta said behind his back. He didn’t even notice when she entered the room. He’d just hacked into Proton, server with accounts users from Warsaw University of Technology. He had not expected to find anything interesting there really. He was wrong.
- Dad’ll bite your head off. You hacked into server at his work. Have you lost your marbles?
Well, that wasn’t wise to hack the server with user accounts... To be more specific, into the accounts of two employees of the Warsaw University of Technology. Dad’s documents included only some outlines of lectures and articles. But Bit opened also another account –he wondered what that freak Pietraszko might keep there.
- Chill out. He won’t find out. He also won’t find out that I plan to check what is that room you can see at the plan that shouldn’t be there. And why it’s walls are thicker than other walls. Will you join me?
- What do you think you’ll discover there? Top-secret arsenal? Artificial intelligence? You've got to be kidding me!
- Will you join me or not?
- Of course I will not leave you. I cannot really imagine that you can come up with something more stupid than what you’ve just done. But you’ve shown me many times how limited is my imagination.
They reached the University of Technology quite fast. They took the tram although the distance from the metro station to main building wasn’t great. They didn’t want to lose time on walking. The historical building always impressed them. The monumental facade was an epitome of science with a capital S. Now, however, their destination was a building of the Faculty of Electronics and Information Technology called ELKA located opposite the main building of the University of Technology and presenting a completely opposite architectural style. It was a gigantic rectangular block from a different epoch similar to thousands of other such building in Poland. A real labyrinth of corridors. Yet Beta and Bit knew it very well. They’ve spent many hours at the faculty as their father was a lecturer there and he took the kids with him to his work many many times.
They crossed Nowowiejska Street and went to one of the identical staircases protruding from the uniform shape of the building. Facade of each of the staircases was decorated with a mosaic. Beta and Bit slowed down as usual to look at them for a moment. They liked to guess what the mosaics could present. Once again they had the impression that the building of the faculty and its surroundings clashed. The huge geometrical building from 1960s stood not only next to the main building of the WUT from the previous century but also close to the pre-war tenement houses at Lwowska and Polna Streets and unique Warsaw Water Filters from the 19th century. It also took only a short walk along the Polna Street to reach the Łazienkowska Thoroughfare, a flagship investment of the People‘s Republic of Poland, which divided that historical street into two parts. A strange place indeed.
- Ooo, you came to your dad?
Bit silently passed Mrs. Ela. He run up the stairs. Beta smiled apologetically feeling ashamed of her brother. The charwoman had known them for a long time. She often talked to them when they were hanging around the faculty as small kids.
- Yes, for a second – the teenager responded politely. – I’ll just...
Mrs. Ela just nodded her head and Beta run after her brother.
- Wait. Stop – she tried not to shout. – What are you doing?
- You know I’m looking for... – he started to explain but Beta interrupted.
- You run like crazy. You draw attention to yourself. Remember that everybody here knows you. If we are to check something here really act normally, please.
- All right, sorry. I copied all the files, mainly some old photos and that plan. The room should be somewhere here, at the first floor.
Beta took a look at the tablet and sighed. – Your secret room overlaps with the room belonging to...
- Pietraszko – Bit finished with a smile. – How do you think, whose account I hacked to?
- Zięba – somebody shouted from behind the slightly ajar door to the laboratory. None of the several students standing in the corridor moved.
- Zięba! – the voice was louder and more threatening this time. Only then Igor Zięba left the wall he was supporting and moved towards the room.
- Sit down.
He sat down obediently. At the other side of the table there was a man wearing enormous glasses. His graying beard was hanging almost to his waist. Mr. Sławomir Pietraszko, MSc. A living proof of the fact that the academic advancement does not necessarily have to coincide with the size of academic achievements. His glasses might have remembered his student years. His beard remembered them for sure. Its history was almost an integral element of the curriculum for the first-year students. Igor Zięba knew it too. He evoked that story while he was waiting for the old Mr. Pietraszko, MSc, to start the exam. The story went like this:
Long, long time ago, but still within the memory of the oldest lecturers of the University, there was a student called Pietraszko. He was a very clever student and being still a young academic he devoted his career to the studies of the time-space continuum. He used the chaos theory to carry out simulations of the alternative evolutions of the history of the world. He was looking for relationships between possible scenarios. He was convinced that he discovered some universal law determining what may happen and what may never happen. Unfortunately, nobody believed in the seriousness and reasonableness of these studies. Pietraszko was offended and he stopped shaving in protest. He declared that he would shave again when somebody undermine results of his studies. In this way his 30-year-old beard originated. It would probably still grow for many years to come. Although everybody knew the history of the beard, nobody remembered what the young Pietraszko had tried to prove.
Igor Zięba waited patiently. Mr. Pietraszko, MSc with his nose in some papers did not look at the student at all. His beard was partially hidden under the desk. But his hair... His thin black and grey hair, oily as always, was hanging almost to his elbows. And that place: Pietraszko’s cave, his closed soundproof laboratory where the eccentric Master of Science closed himself everyday to avoid distractions and disturbance. Was there really no other unoccupied room?
- Are you prepared for the exam, rascal?
Zięba woke up from his meditations immediately. Mr. Pietraszko no longer looked at his notes. Now he petrified the poor student with his cold cybernetic stare.
- We’re there – Bit said when they came close to the white blocky door. A group of nervous students standing nearby was busy looking through their notes. – This ghost-room cannot be entered from the corridor. We can get there only through Pietraszko’s room.
- It is not the best moment. They are having an exam right now – Beta said.
Suddenly the door opened. The boy who left the room was beaded with sweat, tired, yet his face shined with relief. He passed his friends and headed to the stairs with an absent look.
- Zięba! – they heard from behind the door. The student froze.
- Zięba! Your student book!
The sense of relief returned to the student’s face. He entered the room, took his student book and went to the stairs again. This time he showed his curious friends three fingers.
- He passed the exam; he got C – Bit guessed.
Beta and Bit stood in silence for a moment. They were wondering what to do next.
- Artur! Beata! What are you doing here? – they suddenly heard a familiar voice. Only adults called them by their real names. Their friends always used the nicknames - Bit instead of Artur and Beta instead of Beata. They were both interested in science and they likes these nicknames as they expressed their interests. Bit specialized in electronics. He loved to program robots that he himself constructed. He also liked to break computer protection systems. Beta’s hobbyhorse was statistics and data analysis. Her nickname was connected with that interest – beta is a Greek letter frequently used in statistics.
-Has anything happened? –asked professor Jacek Błaszczyk, their dad’s friend. His academic title did not suit him at all: he had recently turned forty but you could always see him wearing jeans, unzipped hoodie and a colorful t-shirt underneath. A touristic backpack was hanging from his shoulder. He wasn’t fat nor thin; he wasn’t short or tall –his appearance was completely average. Yet his scientific achievements were not ordinary at all. Professor Błaszczyk, or just Jacek for Beta and Bit, worked on computational molecular medicine. His study was filled with screens displaying the newest results of the search for the relationships between applied therapies and genetic markers of the patients.
Bit always liked to talk to him but right now he was preoccupied with something else.
- Ehm, nothing. We were bored at home and we just decided to come– he explained lamely. Jacek’s expression showed that he wasn’t convinced.
- We already have holidays – Beta added just as if holidays was a normal reason for teenagers to come to a university.
- It’s actually good that we met - fortunately professor Błaszczyk stopped to pursue the issue. - Artur, I found the mathematical problems that I had told you about. They are in my desk. If you wait for a moment I will give them to you. And then we can go for a dinner together. I only need to call on Mr. Pietraszko.
Beta and Bit nodded their heads. The blocky white door opened again.
- Come in – professor Błaszczyk almost threw the teenagers into the room. – My dear colleague, may I take you a while?
Bit was ecstatic. He would have never expected that they would get into Pietraszko’s study so easily. They only had to identify the mysterious room. Bit started to look around searching for some door. Unfortunately, the walls were all covered by old bookshelves. He immediately lost his enthusiasm.
- It’s hopeless. There is nothing here – he thought with resignation. The only door in Pietraszko’s room were the entrance door.
- …. leave you for a second – the teenager barely heard what his dad’s friend said.
- What? - Bit asked.
- We need to leave you for a moment – professor Błaszczyk repeated. – My dear colleague, you don’t mind, do you? – he asked Pietraszko.
Pietraszko minded very much. It was enough to look at him to guess that much. He did not like anybody to enter his room and much less so leave there anybody while he was absent. Especially these two kids which he really disliked. Their curiosity annoyed him. He knew that they would poke around and read everything that they would find. They might even touch his things! But he didn’t protest. He just gave them a short false smile.
- The students will wait – he said. And they left.
- There is no door here – Bit told his sister the moment Jacek and Pietraszko left the room.
- Who said that this room has to have door? – Beta observed. – If that secret room really exists, only somebody off his nuts would enter it by door. The entrance must be concealed just like the room itself.
Bit looked at his sister with blank amazement. He did not suspect that she was a talented spy. He always perceived her as a polite girl. Too polite for such madness.
They started to look closely at the bookshelves and cupboards standing around them. They touched the doors, pulled the handles, moved various objects. It seemed to them that it was enough to press something to make the entrance to the secret room reveal itself. Just like in an adventure movie.
- It’s no good. We‘re wasting time. Jacek and Pietraszko’ll be back in a moment. There is no secret room here – Beta said. Bit’s idea seemed absurd to her from the very beginning but she was somehow disappointed – she’d already tasted the feeling of adventure.
- Or maybe we don’t know how to look for it? - Bit was staring at his tablet. Suddenly he understood. According to the plan the room they were looking for partially overlapped Mr. Pietraszko’s study. But it did not necessarily have to be located on the same floor. The plan may be misleading. – Maybe that room not only lacks door –maybe the entrance to it is not even located in one of the walls?
Bit and Beta fell to the floor immediately. They swept the old wood block floor looking for some kind of hatch. This time they were right. There was a small entrance right under the window hidden under some rummage belonging to Pietraszko. Their fingers detected a regular unevenness on the floor. They moved Pietraszko’s belongings to a different part of the room and they got down to opening the hatch. It turned out to be quite easy – they just needed to pry it open with a pointer.
They saw narrow steep stairs. Before Beta managed to say anything, Bit was already going down the stairs. The girl cautiously followed her brother. Inside they saw only pitch black darkness. The only light came from the window in the wall above the hatch. Unfortunately, the stairs soon took a turn. They had to grope their way in total darkness keeping close to the walls. They passed the second turn and suddenly they saw a pale light in front of them. They went further down until they reached a hall illuminated by several screens turned on.
- There you are – Bit said with triumph in his voice. He quickly approached one of the large LCD screen and started to look intently at the flow of numbers it displayed. After a moment he went to another screen. And then to another.
- It looks like a world management centre to me – Beta joked as she was looking at the computers standing in a semicircle. – Careful, lest you find a proof for the Pietraszko’s law. Don’t touch anything. We’ve caused enough trouble already.
It seemed to her that they were in the cellars of ELKA. Length of the stairs, two turns –it was enough to pass the ground floor and go further down.
Bit continued to examine the screens. When he checked all of the screens he started to look intently at the room they were located in. The other side of the room was even darker. Light coming from the monitors did not reach that place. Suddenly Beta heard a knock.
- What’s happened? – she asked.
- I bumped into some table. It’s too dark to search this place– Bit concluded. – I think we can leave now. Jacek and Pietraszko’ll be back here soon.
He was already heading for the door when the table he crashed into suddenly lighted up. Bit moved back immediately.
- Beta, look, there is some console with strange gauges.
Beta walked up to her brother. – Come now – she tried to rush him. Bit didn’t listen to her.
- What is that? - Bit took in his hand a gadget lying on the console. – It looks like a watch. It displays the same numbers as one of the screens on that machine. One, eight, seven, six.
- Leave that – Beta pulled at her brother’s arm.
- This device is weird. I wonder what’ll happen if I press this button.
- Bit! No...