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

Chapter 13 (v.1)

Submitted: February 08, 2011

Reads: 47

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Submitted: February 08, 2011



Chapter 13
10:00 a.m., Saturday
When Mike arrived promptly at ten, Brian first noticed his friend sporting slacks and a nice, short-sleeved shirt, as well as a new pair of shades.
“Styling today, huh, Mike?”
“Yep. So do you have the drive?”
Mike didn’t venture inside but just held out an eager hand.
“Come in, guy! We won’t bite!” Behind Brian, Wilson sat entranced watching cartoons on a blaring TV.
“Got a research presentation this morning.” Mike glanced down the apartment stairwell and at his watch. “Can’t stay long.”
Brian retrieved the small drive from his computer and held it up in front of his face. “Took the liberty of copying it, so reuse the drive once you’re done.”
Mike paused, his mouth and eyebrows pulled together. “But you think those links are safe to look at?”
“Whadaya mean?”
“Well, I hit them once, and see where that got me . . . no computer access.”
“Well, I’m not worried, though Carol and I had quite a little time last night trying to access the links on that thing.”
“Do say?”
“Do say? What? Are you an English major now?” Brian stepped out of his apartment and onto the second-floor landing. The sun hit his face, and he looked down to see Mike’s bicycle below. “Yeah, that’s what I wanted to tell you about. Carol took me to some computing science faculty member’s house to see about this information.” 
He told Mike about catching Kevill on Josh’s screen for a moment before it went blank. For some reason, though, he held back their lab escapade and both himself and Jackie seeing Daka the previous night (that last point, the man hovering around his apartment, still gave Brian the jitters). Don’t I trust him? Or just don’t want to scare him anymore?
“Weird. Why would Doctor Kevill show up there?” Mike’s voice tapered off to a whisper.
“Exactly. I’m beginning to think he’s part of one of the projects on this drive. Didn’t you say his name was on here?”
“No!” Mike put up his hands as if to stave off an attack.
“No? Things are pointing that way, but I’ll have to do some more research.” Brian slapped Mike’s shoulder. “Weird, too, is how you convinced Kevill into a make-up. What’s up with that?”
“My . . . my natural powers of persuasion, I guess.” Handing the disc over, Brian noticed Mike’s hand quivered a bit.
“You okay, man? Still got the bug?”
Mike looked up into Brian’s eyes. A look of fear? Brian realized he was having a hard time reading his friend lately. And the dark sunglasses didn’t help.
“A bit. Be in bed if I didn’t have this presentation.”“What’s it about?”
“The presentation. What’s it over?”
“Oh. My research on memory and color-position placement.”
“With the same grad student that had you doing his work for him before being busted by your computer glitch?”
“Same guy. Nice and friendly—unless, of course, you take in his personality.”
Brian smiled but still felt a little worried about Mike. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but his friend seemed less carefree this morning. Surely, the illness and nervousness from having a presentation were the cause. A lot on his mind.
“Well, good luck on the presentation. I’d come if it weren’t for Wil here.” He gestured back inside, with Wilson still engrossed in some Japanese action characters flying across the TV screen, with big-eyed yet diminutive heroes shooting laser beams from their fists.
“Thanks. Gotta run. See ya!”
Closing the door, Brian turned to Wilson and remembered he had a date that night. Time for a sitter; time for Ms. Baker. He just hoped she was available.
Ms. Baker answered and succumbed to Brian’s pleading to take care of Wilson. “He’s such a nice boy,” she said. “I’ll be over right after my quilting group. About six?”
“Yes. Sounds good. Thanks, Ms. Baker. I owe you a dinner or something.”
“Oh. Cold cash is fine, Brian.” She laughed. “But, in lieu of that, a nice, hot meal would be superb.”
So Brian felt all set for the evening. A nagging voice said he was cheating on his wife by going out with Amber. But he brushed the feeling aside, knowing this was for the best. He had to move on.
“Dad,” Wilson had stopped watching cartoons for the moment. “Is Missus Baker coming over?”
“Why?” Wilson tugged on his dad’s legs.
“Because I’m goingout to see Amber. You remember last weekend? The cookies?”
Wilson didn’t miss the “out” reference and led on that his dad might do things that could just as well take place in the apartment. “But why can’t we play Candy Land here instead? I’m real fun!”
“Hah! I know you are.” Brian got down on his son’s level, smoothing out his hair, lingering a bit on his cheek. He knew Wilson wanted attention, knew Ms. Baker wasn’t enough. Maybe one day we’ll have more, guy. Maybe. “Now, let’s get washed up so we can go grab a burger for lunch.”
The food ploy didn’t distract his son. “But Dad. I don’t want to stay all night with Missus Baker. She’s boring. She just wants to read all the time. She doesn’t play with me.”
“Reading is good for you. Now wash up, or we won’t go and eat and get you a toy!”
Dr. William Fratameier felt excited. Actually, he had retained a high level of enthusiasm for weeks. Ever since his “encounter with God,” as he liked to think of that night, his activity level had increased, his interest in new projects had increased, and, importantly for him, his social circle had increased. For the years after his wife’s death, he had become a hermit, teaching classes and going home. The cycle had made him dull, his senses whittled down to patterns that kept him away from meeting new people, doing new things. Now, though, he felt different. Even colleagues in the chemistry department had asked if he wasn’t mixing a few chemicals internally in the form of anti-depressants. But no. It was nothing like that. Dr. Fratameier was simply high on life. 
And he knew more. He wrote more papers. His energy level for his age at 62 seemed better than it had been at 50. The professor was, once again, interested in cutting edge chemical research, even going so far as submitting for a grant to study the possibilities of micro-crystallization processes with quantum physics. Things looked bright. And today, now that the semester was done, finals graded, he had invited some close friends to work more on a quilt they were making for charity.
His quilting group, made up of five women and himself, met at each person’s house on a rotating basis, with this bi-monthly meeting to be held at his home. And he loved it—the attention from the opposite sex, the gossip with people around his age, the interaction and a project into which to pour his energies. 
However, the only problem with his situation was a pull from his higher power to let others into his energetic realm. Maybe it wasn’t a problem so much as a situation. Simply put, God had been talking to him with voices so real he almost thought he was going crazy. Yes, he remembered that first night of reckoning—the box, the pendant, the torrent of feelings and thoughts. His friend Madalene from the Languages Department kept telling him the necklace served as a conduit for God, a beacon that he was unique, one of only a few. When pressed, though, she would only say that things would become clearer with time.
In his meditation room at night, sitting back in his comfy chair, Dr. Fratameier contemplated and conversed with God. At first, he was so surprised by the voice that came to him from inside his head, he had felt weak, his heart pounding in excitement. But now, after a few weeks of ongoing conversation, he was convinced of his envoy status to carry God’s message to the rest of the world.
And his first task to that purpose would be at his quilting club today. Place the small mahogany box outside your front door, God had said to him, the same box you had received. The box will be gone when you return that day, so wait until the box is delivered in your post again. Retrieve but do not open it, the voice specified. His angels have planted a perfect message inside for your guests to see. Wait for that message to become real today, and your friends will share in the bounty of the Lord.
A week had passed, and now the time had come for Dr. William Fratameier to begin his ministry.
Mary Baker arrived first. In her late sixties, Mary was the ringleader of their quilting unit. She had made the charitable contacts. She had the most experience with previous quilts. She had even brought over a few of her own quilts—beautiful displays of bold and soft colors, intricate patterns that made Fratameier at first wonder how she had done such a project all by herself.
“Hi, William. So nice to see you again.” Mary had brought the material the group would be using that day since she had hosted the last meeting. The multi-colors clashed with her plain, white blouse, cream-colored pants, and thick black shoes.
“Hi, Mary. How have you been?” Fratameier went back to the kitchen after opening the door to finish up some iced-tea.
“Fine. Fine. And you?”
“Couldn’t be better. And how’s old Sparky, your dog, lately? The back getting better?”
“Slowly. We’re starting to take more walks in the morning . . . vet’s orders.”
“Nothing like a good constitutional, rising with the sun! The sun is the giver of life, right? God makes all things good!”
“Yes,” she said, lowering her chin at her host’s words and staring at him over her glasses. “Plus, it helps keep off the extra weight.”
“Indeed. I play racquetball with a university buddy. Nothing like a good sweat at my age! The body in tune with the universe!”
The other quilters arrived shortly thereafter—Betty Green, Margol Higgins, Rose Waterson, and Rachel George. All were in their late-sixties and early-seventies. Fratameier could tell this would be a banner day for his group. All had showed up, and everyone seemed chipper and in good spirits.
“What do you have for us today, William?” Betty Green had asked soon after arriving. The thin lady usually made things to eat for the group, but not today, per Fratameier’s instructions. “Tea and crumpets?” “Well, I have the tea. I don’t know about the crumpets.” He suddenly felt nervous about showing these women the Lord’s message. What if they didn’t listen? What if his bold maneuver backfired and they all walked away in anger? The possibility of abandonment made Fratameier pause in his quest to share the good news. But the pull was just too strong. He had to help them. He had to show them the new way of life.
“What’s the matter, William?” Rose Waterson piped in. She had evidently just had her hair done, a stack of blue-gray whirls atop her head. “Cat got your tongue? Let’s get going! I bet we can reach the half-way mark at least today.”
Rachel George, a petite lady of seventy-four dressed in long red pants and a white blouse, pulled out her quilting blocks and pretended that their on-going project, now placed on a large table in Fratameier’s living room, was a meal to be devoured.
“Rachel, you look ready to go!” said Margol Higgins in a slight British accent. In her sixties, she still persisted in dying her hair black, her eyebrows, too. Everyone knew her to be the busybody of the group.
“Yes, your section is already ahead of ours,” Fratameier said. And so their repartee went for about 45 minutes, until he brought the line of conversation away from politics and gossiping and focused it more on his line of religion. As he did so, a certain quiet went over the ladies, who kept busy on their individual quilt squares. They had all met their host at church, all except Margol, who hadn’t gone to church since her husband died. They weren’t afraid of religious talk, but their silence was brought on by the fervor in Fratameier’s language. Every meeting, it seemed, he talked more and more about the Lord and the Lord’s impact on his life.
“I have something wonderful to show you ladies today.” The man put down his sewing needles and beamed at his guests.
“Oh, really?” Margol said. The others looked over at her as to say, “Let’s not be patronizing, Margol. Let’s hear him out.”
“Yes. A present I received from my niece.” He got up and went into his back room, retrieving the small mahogany box and placing it carefully onto the center of their quilt, equidistant from everyone. “See.”
“How beautiful, William!” said Mary Baker with affection. “Where did she get it? Looks to be one-of-a-kind!”
“Oh, it is,” he said. “It is—but the present is also what lays inside.”
“Let’s have a look see,” Rachel said. All ladies had put down their quilting utensils and leaned toward the box to peer inside. “Did your niece bring you something from a far-off continent?”
The other ladies chuckled.
“Well, you could say that. It’s from the continent of God. It’s called a Torus Box.”
“A what?” Betty said. They all knew Fratameier was somewhat religious, having seen his “meditation” room and its decoration of crosses, religious portraits, and various ecumenical texts. But William Fratameier had never before been this outward in his belief.
“A Torus Box. Not the car or the astronomical sign. T-O-R-U-S,” he spelled it out. “Torus as in a picture of the universe!” Fratameier had rehearsed this presentation so much over the past week he now found himself spilling out his cosmic paradigm too fast, losing his quilting circle in the process.
“A picture of the universe, huh?” said Mary. “You professor types. So many ideas!”
Rose Waterson straightened her glasses and leaned over the box.  “So are you going to open it, already, William? What, did your niece get a picture from space or something?”
“Inner space is outer space,” Fratameier replied, still beaming. “The contents match my necklace here.” He pulled out his figure-eight pendant and showed it to everyone.
“A matching necklace? Did she give you that, too?” said Rose.
“No,” he said. “Look!”
And he opened the box. It shot open just like his first box encounter about a month ago and emitted both an evil-sounding hiss and a steady stream of thin gas that quickly hit the ladies’ faces. The circle, including Fratameier himself, drew back in surprise, coughing at the white smoke that sprang forth from the small box.
“William, what the heck are you doing?” one lady said.
Mary stood up, gasping. “William, is this some sort of joke? Because we’re not laughing!”
The other ladies followed suit, standing up and moving toward the front door so that they could avoid the smoke. “It’s on fire!” yelled one.
“Ladies! Ladies! Everything will be all right shortly. Breathe in the power of God, my friends. He will give you power and energy beyond your years!” He got up, grabbing the still-spewing box, and blocked the front door, pushing Mary and her friends away.
“It’s okay, my friends. It’s okay! Wait a few moments!”
The group hovered around Fratameier, looking at him like he had gone mad. He waited for the gas to dissipate somewhat and then took out five more pendants in his right hand from the box in his left, proffering them to his friends.
“What are you doing, William?” Mary asked, using her big-framed body to push past Fratameier and to the front door. “My head! What have you done to us?”
The other women followed their leader, but then, in practical unison, put their hands up to their temples.
“The Lord speaks, my ladies!” Fratameier stepped to the side and looked at them in worry and fear. He dropped the box to the floor while still holding out the pendants. “The Lord speaks. Listen to Him! Listen to Him!”
One by one, the women closed their eyes and collapsed to Fratameier’s living room rug, their bodies giving little shakes like a petit mal seizure. The smoke now had gone, leaving the professor alone with a handful of pendants and five older victims of the Torus Box. His own body shook, too, but more with exhilaration and fear. Fratameier bent down to check each for life signs and, through his sweat and nervousness, placed a pendant around each of their necks, the final step in the conversion.
Back at the lab, Josh and Kevill watched Fratameier’s presentation through another one of Daka’s mini-cams, this one placed strategically on the inside front door frame, providing a nice view of the living room. The scene hovered above the office table in 3-D holography.
“How are their heart rates?” Kevill asked.
“Accelerated but within limits.”
“Synaptic response?”
“Proceeding as predicted.”
“And what about Fratameier? Is he affected in anyway?”
“Looks like he breathes the inoculant as normal air, doctor, since his body has already achieved the benchmark and beyond.”
“What’s he at now? Point two - zero? Point two - five?”
“Yes, point two - five.”
“Good. Keep a close eye on them. They’re old enough to croak from a shock like this. You have them on point zero - five, right?”
“The beginning level—yes, sir.”
Kevill looked at his cell and a picture of Daka on video. “Daka, keep monitoring the home in case something strange happens. I don’t want to take any risks.”
“Go inside, sir?” Daka had gone from dropping Barnes at the airport to parking across the street from Fratameier’s house. He smoked a lean cigarette and monitored the inside happenings while also periodically flipping video to the lab and checking Brian’s apartment.
“No, just keep in contact with us here. We’ll let you know.”
“Yes, sir.” 
Kevill smiled in his plans. A few minutes earlier he had met Mike at the main door and taken the storage drive from him, giving it to Josh to destroy. The student had wanted to talk more about what he could do, but Kevill had sent him away, promising information soon. And now stage two was going well.
“Josh. It looks like our first mass inoculation is a success. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, sir. But we’re not complete yet. I want to monitor them through the first stages and make sure the inevitable illness doesn’t trigger an immune response toward the worse.”
“Yes. We wouldn’t want anyone to die. Hell, these ladies are our ticket to the whole senior citizen base of the city. I want them fit and focused in a week.”
“And then?”

“And then, Josh, we’ll see if our local nursing homes, hospitals, and senior citizen centers just might have a need for a little God in them as well.”

© Copyright 2019 jconkin. All rights reserved.


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