The Torus Project

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1)

Submitted: February 04, 2011

Reads: 289

Comments: 1

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 04, 2011

A A A

A A A

Prologue

Dr. Fratameier needed a long talk with God.

The day had been exhausting.Committee meetings, department politics, and that new chemistry chair, Dr. Winzen.Wicked, little miser, Dr. Fratameier thought, giving him a summer night class to teach! Students accosted him at every turn.And the end of term, still some weeks away, promised more grading than usual.

The university street stretched along his mile-walk home, gusts buffeting the elms planted along the medians, student cyclists peddling to make it to class on time.Everything seemed the same, but from within he projected unease.Stress.He needed a soothing tea, respite to sit and think.

Fratameier’s heavy brown shoes thudded on the front stoop of his one-bedroom home nestled off the main street.Light-yellow, pointy, the house gave him comfort, provided him a base of energy as he made his daily route to the university.
Beside his front entrance, a green light flickered, indicating he had received a package that day.
“Maybe Madalene has delivered her promised surprise.”
He pushed a small button; a waist-high, shallow compartment opened outward like a mail chute in the post office.One piece only.A package, maybe the size of a fist, and addressed to Fratameier in large, bold letters with no return address.He plucked it up and proceeded inside to disrobe and make his tea.Over sixty years old, the house operated like its owner in many ways, holding collections of little things in little places, Fratameier’s passions—clocks, and coins, and antiques—

gathered from here and there.He liked little things, for the very small that made up the world around him—atoms, molecules, chemicals—were, of course, the professor’s daily teachings.Pictures of family and friends dotted walls and shelves.Dark, musty piles of books hovered about, yet, strangely, with a bit of technology—HDTV, computer, videophone—placed to make him functional with the world.
He started a pot of tea and turned his attention to the package.
“Now, let’s see here.”His worries of the day were falling away.“Madalene mentioned a wonderful surprise yesterday.Strange lady is more like it.So intent on talking to me at the inter-departmental meeting.But I’m guessing this must be it.Why she couldn’t just deliver it to my office . . .”
He snipped the bindings of the heavy, brown paper and unwrapped the package, opening the stiff cardboard shell to peer inside.A small mahogany box lay there, shiny and snug, with a hand-written note attached: “FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN THE TORUS”.
How bizarre, he thought, as he massaged the top of the container and opened the lid. Once the container’s seal was broken, the top sprung back on its own, the insides emitting a hiss.Fratameier also felt tingly warmth in the fingertips of his hand, a minute electric shock that forced him a step back.
“Oh, my,” he said.He clutched his glasses to look closer, but they had fogged up; he had trouble catching his breath.
A few moments later, things cleared, and he could begin to see a delicate necklace deposited at the bottom of the felt-lined casing, its two-centimeter-long pendant twisted like a figure eight.Perfectly rounded and smooth.All silver and fantastically shiny.

“How bea . . . beautiful,” he said, looking down at the pendant.It was similar to the cross that presently hung about his neck, and, picking up the new pendant, he stroked it while also clutching his crucifix in the other hand.
He then blinked, feeling dizzy.
The teakettle whined, and he stumbled to turn off the stove, present still in hand.After pouring himself a cup of mint tea, he went to a small study by the main living room.Adorned with simple furniture and colors of gray and green, the room’s thick carpeting allowed Fratameier to sit in his leather recliner and meditate, pray, or read before retiring.
He lit candles, sending soft light on a watercolor of Christ on the cross, which adorned a wall across from him.A wooden crucifix was positioned along another wall.He looked at these and breathed in before examining his pristine treasure.
“What a nice gift from Madalene.”His slippered feet stuck out as he admired the pendant with a large magnifying glass that was mounted to the chair’s armrest.“I’ll have to thank her tomorrow.
“Interesting . . . Flawless at this magnification.Silver? Or some other metal?”He took a sip of hot tea but was quick to spit it back.“Terrible! What happened to my tea?”

Placing the pendant down on the table, Fratameier grabbed the teacup and went toward the kitchen for another brew; however, he never made it.The ceramic cup fell from hands that convulsed as if he was having a seizure.
“What?”
Fratameier looked at his hands with terror.His arms began to shake as well.He steadied himself on a nearby bookshelf but only ended up toppling furniture to floor, his body following with a crash.
The instrumental music he had put on before coming to the study became contorted to his ears, the notes staccato then vibrant and long.Fratameier tried to get up, but his muscles and nerves would not respond.
“No!”
Cramps in his side.Cramps from his stomach.He vomited down his chin and on the thick carpet.Tears rolled from Fratameier’s eyes, for he couldn’t understand.What was happening? A stroke?
The candles began to dim; his thoughts became unclear.A headache burned from the back of his head and throbbed at his temples.Memories rushed at him from all corners of his life, random memories of his dead wife, of childhood experiences, of a time he took drugs—times long buried.He thought of work, of formulae, of problems and solutions.All so fast! All so clear and then erased!

When Dr. Fratameier’s brain and body finally calmed, he slept a deep sleep, his dreams active, rebuilding something, building, building.All the troubles of the previous days melted to nothing, and, indeed, upon waking, he felt reborn.




Chapter 1

9:05 a.m., Friday

The hundred-seat auditorium echoed with sniffs, coughs, and shuffling feet, almost every student intent upon the one voice in the center—Dr. Andrew Kevill, professor of cognitive psychology, University of Oklahoma, Norman.His classes were always like this—packed, intense, focused.

“We are still but babes when it comes to knowing all there is to know about our own minds! Why, only now do we begin to see the chemical centers of memory and how strongly these centers shape our everyday functioning in the world about us.”
Dr. Kevill wasn’t an overly striking man.He was fairly short, stocky, baby-faced; at first glance one wouldn’t think to glance again.Yet he exuded a charisma, especially the speaker in him—his knowledge and his outlook—that so engrossed the students who enrolled in his classes.
A pudgy finger whirled about the well-lit, expansive room.“Just look! Everything you see, you sense! All comes through this amazing processor plant of a brain we have!”He pointed at his temple.His graying hair was brought back into a thin ponytail that ran down to the center of his back.
“We compute and formulate.We systemize and analyze.Myth and meaning to make sense of it, and it all centers on this!”He tapped his temple now, pivoting on his heels to get as much eye contact as possible.“This three-pound universe, my friends.This three-pound universe we carry around all day.”
Some students chuckled at the luggage analogy, mainly out of incomprehension.These were Dr. Kevill’s end-of-the-semester antics, after all.Sit and watch the show.One student who didn’t dare even crack a smile was psychology major Brian Minor.A junior, Brian had taken every class he could from Kevill, from basic “Psychology 101” to “Experimental Psych” and now this class, “Physiology of the Brain”.Basically, Brian worshipped the man, the way he could get his knowledge across to a low-level guy like himself.The overall self-confidence Dr. Kevill had, Brian wanted.
“I want to leave you with this thought to pursue over the summer break, students,” Kevill said, his voice lowered for effect.“You and your three-pound universe, that is.”
Kevill stood with arms pressed to his sides.His brow took on an intent look as he scanned the auditorium.“Choose a belief of your own.Start with something small, like which football team is the best.And pick that belief apart.Write about it.Analyze it.And as you focus on the belief, use what we have learned about the physiology of the brain to determine: Where is my belief stored? In the universe of my head, where do I keep my thoughts? How are they sorted? Memory, data, evidence? You be the judge.Think about it.And I’ll see all of you again next week for the final.
“Good luck,” he smiled, and added, “Adios.”
Computers clicked off; seats snapped shut.Brian was already thinking about the assignment.Where were his beliefs? What the hell did he believe anyway? He’d gotten into psychology, he had surmised mid-way through his major, to figure himself out, to figure out the reasons behind events that had happened in his life.Seven years in the Air Force.He had jumped straight into the military life since he didn’t know what to do with himself after high school.A flash of action, work, traveling, meeting his wife.
And now . . . sure he was more knowledgeable, smarter, more street smart.Hell, he was even a single dad, for Christ’s sake, making it on his own in the civilian world after his wife died and after leaving the military.But where was he going? What was he really like on the inside?
A petite blonde, athletic, energetic, darted in front of a still-sitting Brian to get his attention, sticking her face close to his.“Hey, Brian! Gonna join us for a beer tonight at Sam’s?Should be happenin’ with dead week up and all.”She referred to the week before finals week, the time most professors laid off on the homework and tests and allowed students to prepare for the last thrust to finish the semester.
He looked up to see fellow psych major Jackie Smithers.Dressed in the fad one-piece, multi-color vicra jumpsuit that was going around campus, Jackie straightened and looked down at Brian with a smile.
“I said, ‘Sam’s.Tonight.Beer.In or out, stud boy?”
Brian scratched his head and stood up, grabbing his computer.“Sure, Jack.But ya know I’ve got Wil.What time you guys getting together?”
“Oh, I’d say nine-ish.”Her jumpsuit heaved a bit as she breathed, the tight fit fully bringing Brian into the conversation at hand.“Surely you can get a sitter for Wilson,” she smiled.

“Right.”Brian thought about his five-year-old.Then the inevitable image of Wilson’s mom came slamming into his head, the accident of his birth and the other “accident” that had cost her her life.
“So, fly-guy, we gonna see you there or not? Come on! Semester’s almost done!”
“I’ll try, Jack.I’ll try.”
“Okay.”She gave her best pout.“Best I can hope from a complex guy like you.”
She turned and left, revealing more of the skimpy outfit and reminding Brian that there were some beliefs that needed no further exploring . . . not without further complications to his life.

#


Exiting the classroom building, Brian realized he had a few hours to kill until picking up Wilson at daycare.He grabbed a bite to eat at the cafeteria and, while munching on a burger and fries, began thinking more about Kevill’s summer assignment.
The Three-pound Universe, eh? he thought.I could write a paper on that.Now, what belief to dissect and punch a hole in to fully impress the guy? What do I believe in—but have not asked myself why?

He gazed through the cafeteria’s bay window.Students gathered by the miniature duck pond, huddled in groups against the wind, talking, some sucking on cigarettes, dancing nervously in place.Outside, a window cleaner in coveralls showered the glass with a detergent and water mixture, muddying Brian’s view, subsequently clearing it away again with his long brush.
I believe I have beliefs.Too complex, he thought, and took another bite of the burger.He ate and gazed and pondered and ate, but nothing seemed to come to him.On his final bite, it hit him, though.He decided to do something daring . . . actually visit Dr. Kevill at his office in the imposing, vine-covered Psychology Building, the epicenter of learning, the nest of Brian Minor’s intellectual soul.
“That should stir some thoughts,” he heard himself say.He crumpled the food wrappers and stood up.
Brian had talked to Kevill on occasion when called upon or asked a periodic question.He had taken three of the professor’s classes, seeing his idol come out of his own shell, it seemed, since that first class.But he had never sought the man out in his lair.And now he had no real cause to do so other than to “chat”.What was he thinking? Had he gone insane? No Air Force cadet would dare seek out a superior officer just to talk about the meaning of life.You had a certain mission, or get the hell out.But Brian had changed since his Air Force days.No longer the thin, crew-cut boy, he had filled out, grown a thick cut of brown hair, and, with the number of psychology pages in him, had developed a certain drive to find things out, maybe embark on a mission of a different kind.

So Kevill it was, for no particular reason other than Brian felt it might just be time to meet his master.
He stepped onto the campus lawn and felt an Oklahoma May windstorm hit his face.What would Kevill say if I asked him about some of his own beliefs? Brian plodded closer to Psych central, a three-story, brick building full of experiments and offices.I wonder if he would reveal any to me? Memory and belief—what’s the correlation? And what about this three-pound universe mumbo jumbo? Thoughts and beliefs are in my skull and everything else is out here in the world, right?
Brian passed a small statue of Wilhelm Wundt, the so-called father of psychology, which guarded the front entrance of Montor Hall, the Psych Building’s official name.He didn’t know who Montor was or had been, but all campus buildings sported some stuffy name reflecting wealthy donors of the past.Brian stopped a second to regard the statue.The bust’s demeanor proclaimed, “I am immortal in my calm attitude, my scientific approach to life.”But the real slogan read: “Physiologus non supersiti.”Something like “Science over superstition,” Brian had been told.Somehow, that seemed to fit.
Through the glass double doors he took his three-pound universe, and silence hit.Psychology silence.As if some unspoken rule said “No running or cavorting.These are hallowed halls of study.Tread carefully.Think carefully.Someone always watches what you do . . . and measures the results.”Brian crept to the office room postings.Kevill’s was on the third level, number 309.
Polished wooden floors spread from the entranceway, with wrought-iron stairs proceeding up and down to his right and left.And a more modern elevator sat next to the office number board, metal, polished.
The elevator would be too quick, he thought.This was exploration after all.He took in the two perfect staircases flanking the building’s entryway and further down the halls to either side.Must be another stair or two further down, fire codes and stuff.He edged down one side of the Psych Building’s polished floors to find his way up to the third level.

#

The steel banisters felt cold to his touch as he rounded a narrow stairway, seemingly forgotten on this late spring day in Montor Hall.Quiet.So quiet.Brian’s thoughts echoed the three floors, a reminder of how much he really felt alone in the world.Yes, he had Wilson, but as an adult, something was missing.
“Rebecca,” he said in the badly-lit stairwell.“I miss you.”
Level three approached, and he pushed the heavy door to reveal another long corridor of brass doorknobs and reflective marble floors.Students and psych staff made their way between offices up ahead, shadows really, flickers in the light.Brian breathed in and looked for the first number.
He remembered this floor of Montor held mostly experiment rooms and storage space.Room 302.Behind one of the stiff, wooden doors, he heard someone say, “Now repeat after me.”304, 306, 307, 308 . . .
“Yes, Madalene,” he distinctly heard professor Kevill’s voice, its powerful tone hushed yet leaking through a cracked door to his right.“So he’s still taking it well, you say?”

An electronic crackle could be heard.Must be holo, Brian thought, the next step past video.He’d seen one on display at a psychology conference once.The speaker couldn’t make it, but his image could.Standing a thousand miles away, the man was linked to a fancy projection-camera device that allowed the audience to view his ghost-like display give the presentation in his physical stead.Holo’s now were an off-shoot of video phones, mainly, where people could see each other in 3-D as they conversed.
Probably should come back later.But something held him.
“Can’t resist, Andy.Like a babe.The nans have put him in our loop.”A female voice, husky yet seductive—secure, sure.“Yes, the chem master is fully ours.I guess you need to test him a bit more, but I feel he is steady.”
“Excellent!” Kevill knocked an object to the floor inside the room.“Shit!

“Listen.Madalene.Gotta go.Good work.”A pause.More moving around.“Call me in 20 minutes, okay?”

“Sure, prince.” She rolled the R’s.“And when do we meet?”

“Just call.Kevill out.”

Clicks fuzzed the holo comm break, followed by Kevill scrambling about to pick up what he had broken during the conversation.

Brian waited a few moments before rapping on the door.

“Yes.”The voice was peeved.

Brian cleared his throat, pushed the door a bit, and peeked inside.“Uhm . . . yes, sir.”
Kevill, still dressed in his class attire of jacket and tie, bent over in an old, wooden swivel chair, picking up pieces of a ceramic coffee mug.A streamlined holo pad, unique and expensive, sat on the floor inches from the spill.

“Sorry,” he said without looking up.“My office hours have passed.Please come back on Monday.”

The chair sat half-way between a wooden, roll-top desk—cluttered with papers, diagrams, charts, pencils, mugs—and a huge and beautiful picture over Kevill’s head that Brian took to be a map of the known universe . . . yet, somehow, contorted like many lines or spindles had been etched on to the picture.The picture also had mathematical schematics around it and looked to be more than just a picture, possibly a touch-screen.Did one of those spindles move?
Brian wanted to explore the office further, but Dr. Kevill, apparently realizing his visitor was still stalwartly present, looked up.
He tried again.“I’m sorry, sir.I just wanted to clarify today’s homework.”
Kevill skimmed Brian’s face, and as he did so, the professor’s demeanor changed.
“I know you.Brian, right? Yes, sir!”A thought going through Kevill’s head seemed to store itself, and a routine had taken its place.The change was clear enough, definite enough, to strike a chord in Brian as something to remember about Dr. Kevill.A calculating man.
“What is it I can do for you?” Kevill said, getting up from his chair.“I’m in a hurry and have an appointment across campus.”He grabbed a black leather jacket that hung behind the door and turned off the lights.Brian stepped aside for Kevill to shut and lock his door, but, before he did so, it seemed the strange picture inside had retained its own light.
“It’s no big deal,” Brian lied.This visit was all wrong, he thought.All these semesters to finally get the nerve to talk to Dr. Kevill man to man, and he has to go to a silly meeting? He wanted more.He needed more!

And what was Doctor Kevill talking about before he had knocked on the door? Nans and chem masters?

“I wanted to ask you about the homework you gave today.About the beliefs and analyzing them.”

Kevill whipped the coat about his square shoulders, pulling his ponytail out from underneath.

“Yes, well.That . . . my friend, Brian.”His eyes focused for a second on Brian’s, pinning him against the wall.

Brian’s heart pounded.He felt that, maybe, this was it.Maybe that Dr. Kevill was changing his mind.Forgetting the meeting.Thinking here is an aspiring student.

“ . . . that is a longer conversation than I have time for right now.Next week?”

“Sure, Doctor Kevill.”Brian stood still.His shoulders slumped.

“Great.I’ll see you next week.Finals and all!”

And the great man left.Now Brian felt frozen, downtrodden, and full of more questions than he had originally thought of coming up the hill to Montor Hall.

#

Behind the building, Dr. Kevill slipped inside his black 2007 Jaguar and pushed the communications button.
“Josh?”
“Yes.”A young voice, accented, answered through the car’s speakers.
“I need records for a student.Name, Brian.Has been in two or three of my classes before.Last name, unsure.Dark hair.About 6’2”.180-185 pounds.Blue eyes.Send it via my controlled port . . . and Josh?”
“Sir?”
“Get someone on him.I think he may have heard more than he should.”


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