Chapter 3 - two weeks before the key is found

Pulling drinks at Starbucks isn't anyone's dream, but after seven weeks sleeping on a kind-of friend's couch, looking for jobs all over the city under creepy, edgy managers and guys who interview you in shorts, it can feel like a rope. Save up and you can pay for the doctor, and they pay for dental cleanings.
It messes up your feet. They give you these short little shifts, if they've got enough people working, but still after four hours the little drips from the steam nozzles get down through the vents in your shoes and the skin swells and gets soft.
There's this guy working there, his name's dean. He's got no plans for college and I figure he's 19 at the oldest, but he's got this thick, fine hair and these big white teeth. It's unfortunate, thinking about a guy you'd like to have sucking your toes while you know that your feet at this moment are covered in skin like the inside of tangarine peels.
The rule is that your not supposed to keep a cell phone in your pocket at work. I guess most of the people here just graduated from high school, and people like that tend to have a lot friends around their hometown. I guess, from the scene right outside the door when they get off shift, the teenage girls I work with get hundreds of messages a day and their phone would be ringing all the time after twelve. But once in a while Anton calls me at work about picking me up, or maybe Erin calls on a friday to see if I want to play squash on Saturday, and that's about it. My boss, or supervisor, or whatever, lets me keep my phone while I'm on shift. I don't know if the fact that she's two years younger than me and that supervisors are allowed to keep their phones has any weight, but I get to keep my phone.
That meant there were no tearful voicemails, no guilt about not checking my messages sooner, no timezoned waiting till next morning to return my dad's wife's call.
No, I got the call with water dripping on my feet, and some solicitous asshole wearing a fleece vest smiling over the pastry case at me preparing his lame flirtatious comment while his wife gets their two kids settled.

Chapter 2 - six months after the key is found

Do you even know what this thing does?
I know that it unlocks every lock we've ever tried it in.
It unlocks padlocks, kryptonite locks, if you shove it in the edge it'll pop a combination lock, it lets you draw money out of any ATM, and it made a counterfeit passport scan at the Sydney airport.
Yeah, everything we tried.
That doesn't make any sense, Ez.
I hate it when he talks to me like this. For two weeks he'd been asking to use the key, ever since the Sydney airport, and finally last night I let him use it to go get some cash on Wangfujing. Now he's talking to me like this. He's got scorn for me, not knowing what the key does, or how it works, or how the things that it unlocks work. I can tell he thinks it's something unique, and that he's got scorn for me for letting him use it, for not being as distrustful and armored up as he is.
Think about it, is there anyway that Frank could have gotten into that bunker without the key?
Probably not, no.
And we know he went in....
The seventies
yeah in '78
Okay? It's not like they had RFID in the seventies.
That's the chips in my passport.
Yeah that's the chip in your passport. Now he thinks I'm stupid for repeating what I've heard. That's what I didn't have in mine that should have gotten me flagged and searched.
Okay so the key worked on the reader.
Ez that doesn't make any sense.
Why not? It worked fine, it's not like they'd let us leave again if it hadn't worked.
Yeah it worked but it shouldn't have worked. How can a key made before 1972 work on an RFID reader released in late 2006?
It's just radio, right? And it doesn't need a power supply, because there's no battery in my passport. I started to reach for the document pouch I'd had slung around my neck for the last week.
Anton waved his hand with his arm stretched straight in front of him. Okay so Nikolai Tesla had the original designs decades earlier but modern chips transmit a number back to the reader and that number back to a database or, or whatever and only then does it let you through. How could someone predict that? The ATM is the same way, it's not like we're popping open the cash cartridge, that key lets us draw out money as if the system thinks we're loaded, it even spits out receipts for huge remaining balances in five different countries. Ez this is not the key your father had in 1973. Either he traded it in for a newer model, or improved it, and even he'd done that I still don't see how anything could do what its doing.
Looking at it there, the chain slack in his palm with a little loop running down to just graze the cheap polyester bedspread, the key itself a matte black mark in his palm, I thought how much I'd like to take it back. It's not that I wanted it for myself, It's not that I wanted to be away from Anton, it was just that I wanted it away from him. I didn't want him thinking about it, bending every thought to the key's potential uses. Even more, I didn't like how he saw me while he had it in is hand: like I was just carrying it around, waiting to find someone who could unlock its full potential.
All I'd wanted was a few extra bucks and some answers.

Chapter 1 - many years after after the key is found

I still carry the chain around my neck. It's thin, light, a three-foot length of ball chain slapping lightly against my chest as I hop stones across the river. It would be valuable to me if I took it off. I thought I prepared well when I left the city: dynamo-powered flashlights instead of the far less reliable solar battery models, parabolic fire starters, ammunition and a little field loader rig, a pistol and a rifle that use the same caliber, tarps and blankets, but it's incredible how you can never have enough string. Some time, maybe next summer or the summer after that, I intend to head back in to Portland and come back with a shopping cart full of stuff. If I can find it I swear I'll bring back a hundred miles of string.

So the ball chain would come in handy. I couldn't lash anything with it but I could use it for fishing line, or to pull a trap, or maybe it'd even bind up one of the bark bundles I use for torches. Does ball chain burn? Does it melt?

Anton would know, but I don't, and it's one of those things that's not in any book, at least not in any book that's not fiction.