The Torus Project

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

Chapter 14 (v.1)

Submitted: February 08, 2011

Reads: 99

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Submitted: February 08, 2011



Chapter 14
2 p.m., Saturday
Amber’s call Saturday afternoon to see if their date was still on brought up an old-fashioned quality in her Brian liked. She didn’t have a cell or handheld, which meant looking at her through video was out of the question. The two chatted about tests and grades and Wilson and made a plan to go to dinner and a movie. Brian could only imagine how good she looked.Jackie called next, wanting more information about his covert operations the night before. Her face came over video with a frown when the discussion turned to Mike.
“He’s just wired, Jackie. The guy runs on fumes. Plus, he’s been sick.”
“Sure, but what about this dark stranger following him and you seeing the same man at the lab and at Montor? And then me seeing him at your place, for heaven’s sake! Did you tell him about almost running into this Daka guy last night at the lab?” “Ah, no.”
“No?” Jackie moved the phone too quickly on her end, and Brian’s video jumbled.
“Well, seeing Daka is strange, but I didn’t want to stress Mike out even more than he already is . . . What can we do? Follow Mike around and see what he’s up to?”
“Yes.” She focused the camera on her made-up face again, her hair drawn back by a red headband. “Call it women’s intuition, Bri, but I feel something’s definitely wrong around here. You’re with Amber tonight, right?”
“Well, just be careful. For all we know, she’s into this secret nano stuff, too.” 
“What the hell are you talking about, Jack? She’s just a regular student like you and me!” For the first time, Brian showed some emotion with his friend, his reaction greater because, for all he knew, Jackie might be right.
“And what do you know about her really?” Her eyebrows rose.
“Enough . . . Come on. Are you sure you just don’t want me seeing her?”
“Right, bonehead. Your first date in a year, and I want it messed up. No, it just doesn’t feel right—Mike and Amber and, maybe, even Carol.”
“Carol?” Brian sat down on his couch, trying to keep the video connection smooth.
“Well, I knew about that professor guy.” Jackie’s eyes darted a quick left-right-left on Brian’s mini-screen. “But I didn’t know she was so into him. His house and his lab?”
“Uh, huh. Kinda weird. Sounds like she is basically hurt and wants back at the guy, Jack.”
“Well, he did her over all right. I said seeing a teacher was bad news. But, you know—what can you tell someone when they think they’re in love?”
Brian clicked off his video, tired of keeping his handheld in place. “Look, Jackie. Why don’t you come over tomorrow? We’ll talk about this stuff, maybe develop a plan to ease the worries, eh? I don’t know what the heck we can do to help Carol out with her crush or Mike out with his paranoia, but they’re friends in any case.” Brian liked that thought, liked knowing he had friends in which to turn.
“All right. See ya later. Take care of yourself.” “Gotcha, Jack. Thanks.”
He hung up and looked over at Wilson, who was immersed in a cartoon video game. What if Mike and Carol and even Doctor Kevill were involved in some secret thing? What do I really know? And why do I even care? Brian felt he was a pretty trusting guy, but he had to admit, the synchronicities were stacking up.
Mike’s change also triggered Brian’s alarm bells. Did he really need that flash drive, or was he sent to get it back?
“Geez, I need to stop painting a spy scenario, Wilson. My boring student lifestyle must unconsciously crave more excitement.”
“What, Dad?”
“Oh, nothing. You solve the Bad Beenie riddle in your game, sport?” Brian had gotten Wilson an interactive video game that had you solve problems with a gang of cartoon characters. “Bad Beenie” was the antagonist of the game and had children do simple math or look around for clues.
Wilson’s small frame bobbing to the video universe fired in Brian’s head. Too many games? he thought. Too much TV and computer? He, too, had grown up with the electronic interplay. But what would Rebecca say? What about all of Wilson’s feelings? His mom. He didn’t talk enough . . . they didn’t talk enough about mom. The missingparent. TVs and screens could never be that mom for Wil, he knew.
But also looking at Wilson play, Brian was reminded he had his own, real-life problems to solve here and now. The flash drive. The list. With a sudden leap to pat Wil on the head, he returned to his own computer, fired it up, and pulled Mike’s accidentally acquired list to the screen, the same directory he and Carol had tried to access last night before professor Uhland’s computer shut down on them. If this really will get me in trouble once I go live with the hyperlinks, he thought, I wonder what will happen? Daka start following me, too? I’ll start acting weird like Mike? He couldn’t believe a register of projects, even if they were related to the government, would really be as nefarious as it all seemed.
He searched the worldwide roll again, finding the one project under the University of Oklahoma. He paused, took a deep breath, and clicked it.
The computer whirred, signifying outside connections. Dr. Kevill’s name along with Dr. Uhland’s popped up alongside a grant titled “Project Master.”
“Doctor Kevill, too?” Brian said aloud. “So Mike did see him.” His heart raced, and he looked over at Wilson like the discovery would strike his boy from out of the computer. “No wonder his face came up on the screen last night!”
The name, Project Master, piqued Brian. Master. As in slave or as in adept? he thought. What did this have to do with nanotechnology anyway? The pieces sifted around in Brian’s head as he tried to connect the dots. He then decided to take the leap and clicked on the “Project Master” hyperlink itself.
His monitor blanked for a moment, making him remember his experience at Dr. Uhland’s, and a red background with black words materialized:
“Project Master. Department of Defense nanotechnology initiative #2718.
University of Oklahoma. Priority: High. Security Clearance: High. Dr. Andrew Kevill, project head. Dr. Josh Uhland, second.”
Both men also had hyperlinks, which Brian pursued.
“Dr. Andrew Royce Kevill, professor, OU Psychology Department. Doctorate in Physiological Psychology from Stanford. Teaches: Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Neuropsychology. Tenure track. OU for 15 years. 
“Dr. Heinrich ‘Josh’ Uhland, professor, OU Department of Computing Science. Doctorate in Microsystems from the University of Frankfurt. Experience with Germany’s top nanotechnology lab. Teaches: Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Systems, and Nanotechnology. OU for one year.
What? A shiver raced up Brian’s spine. Both Doctor Kevill and Doctor Uhland involved with the government? What does nanotechnology have to do with psychology but as making humans more computerized from the inside? No wonder everything seemed so strange, so secret! No wonder the government had a play in this, he thought. And if they were working with the DOD, Brian’s military background told him that the project wasn’t just about getting mice to run through a maze. His gut told him it had to do with warfare—weapons, soldiers, advanced systems.
So when Mike got close, they had followed him! And now what had he gotten himself into? Brian’s whole world, his whole simplified student lifestyle, became blurry and twisted. No longer could he trust his favorite professor. This proved it! The man is involved in secret government stuff! Shit!
Brian looked over again at Wilson, who hummed while sneaking around a corner in his cartoon world, wondering if the boy were even safe. He realized his look at the computer list might have endangered Wil. Maybe that was irrational, but what else was he to think? He knew from his own Air Force background that the government played for keeps, and with a high security clearance tabbed on this information, they wouldn’t dilly dally around. How the hell did Mike get to this information in the first place? A mess-up in the university mainframe? A leak in the system?
Brian couldn’t know for sure. But fear started taking over as he realized his little click on the mouse might have stepped him into a whole new world. 
“No data draw from computer one upstairs.” Josh and Daka sat in the basement lab’s main office, each with a Styrofoam cup in front of them, going over their recent group inoculation at Dr. Fratameier’s house on the holo-screen.
“What do you mean?” said Daka, who proceeded to light a cigarette even though Josh had requested he not do so in his presence. Smoke fumes sifted through the small room.
“We pull off the computers in the main lab upstairs for certain criteria. If I can’t get that information, this computer simply reads data from our inoculants but cannot always be reliable as the nanites are ever-changing once they attach to a host.”
“You mean you cannot refresh because the mainframe upstairs is the pool of data upon which you draw?”
“Kind of like that.” Josh looked frustrated. He scratched his head and clinched his jaw repeatedly. “I need to go upstairs and check it out. Keep an eye on the group readings, will you?”
Daka sat still, eyes half-shut, and drew on his cigarette. “I only take orders from Doctor Kevill, and he is not here now.”
Josh paused as he neared the door, spinning around and stepping close to Daka. “Look, Doctor Daka. I’ve been on this project for almost a year now, putting in countless hours, living what Doctor Kevill and I have created. Now, you show up with your cool ways, your nasty cigarettes, your mercenary demeanor. Let’s just get things straight, all right? I’m not going to give you ‘orders’, as you put it. I simply have suggestions, things I know work or don’t work from experience, okay?”
“Okay, doctor, okay.” Daka extinguished his cigarette, placed the butt in his pocket, and followed Josh out the door. “I am with you.”
“I hope so,” Josh said, heading down the entry hall toward the basement’s only elevator. “For all our sakes, I hope so.”
At that moment, the elevator opened to reveal Kevill, who instantly surmised the tension. “Everything okay down here?” he said. He carried a box of donuts, stout fingers of one hand covered in lard and sugar.
“Fine,” barked Josh, who slammed his fist against a wall. “I have to go tweak the mainframe upstairs.”
“Okaaay.” Kevill opened the box. “Try a donut, Josh? Good for you . . . calm your feelings.”
“No thanks.”
“Doctor Nabouti?”
“Thank you, sir, but my cigarettes are bad enough for me.”
“All for me then.” He selected a chocolate one and bit off a piece. “What’s wrong with the mainframe, Josh?”
“Lost signal down here. Probably just a glitch.”
“Good. How are our ladies doing?” Daka had left Fratameier to look after his knitting group while the ladies slept off the initial reaction to the nanite agent.
“Waking, heart rates low. Might have a problem with number three,” Daka said. “Blood pressure in the warning area.”
“Time for a personal visit then, Daka. If you would, go back and round them up for a debriefing later this afternoon.”
“Josh and I will continue to monitor them from here.”
“And if one of them goes into the red?”
“Have Fratameier rush her to the hospital. Say she fainted at this knitting club. Keep a low profile, though. Have Fratameier drive the second car, and return in an hour. Okay?”
“Yes, sir.” Daka left through the elevator before Josh, who refused to ride up with the man.
“Josh, we need no feuding between us, got me?”
“Right, sir.” He grabbed his neck to message tense muscles. “The man pains at times. He is too smug.”
“We need smug, Josh. We need confidence. Just know his heart is in the right place. He’s the right man.”
“I hope so, Herr Doctor. I hope so.”
Daka again parked across the street from Fratameier’s house, eyeing the aging structure for any internal activity. He looked around for signs of witnesses and crossed the street to the front porch. There he heard some low talking from inside.
“Ladies, you now can think better. You now can do more!”
“What have you done with us, William?” said Mary Baker, her voice weak, groggy. “My head hurts. All our heads hurt. And Rachel has yet to awake!”
Fratameier looked down at Rachel, who breathed shallowly upon his living room carpet. He also looked around at the unfinished quilt and the four ladies who had just awoken from their few hours’ naps. Some sat around the table after getting up off the floor; a few stood and gazed at him sternly.
“Believe me, ladies, you’ll thank me before long.” He bowed and scratched his head, thinking of what to say next. What had he done? Was this the end of their friendship, their get-togethers? “I have been converted by the Lord for more than a month, and you know how happy I have been! The smoke is necessary to transform your brain to receive the Spirit!”
Rose Waterson sat on a rickety wood chair and looked at Rachel with concern. “Mister Fratameier, I have already received the Spirit, thank you! I didn’t need your help! Tell us. Now. What is going on? Or I’m calling the police.”
“Yes, William,” said Betty Green. She blinked repeatedly and touched her temples. “Why do I have such strange feelings and thoughts? It’s like . . . like a vision or something.”
Daka took that as his cue and waltzed in the front door without knocking.
“Ladies,” he said. “Gentleman. Welcome to your new world. My name is Daka, and I’m here to take you to meet my superior, who will explain everything.”
Fratameier stared incredulously. “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”
“I am a servant of the Lord, dear Doctor Fratameier. A friend of Ms. Riviera. Your transformation, ladies, will not be complete without a visit, so come with me.” Daka reached down to pick Rachel George off the ground.
“The hell you’re not!” said Mary Baker, moving to cut Daka off. “I don’t know who you are, mister, but I want answers just like all of us. Now!”
Daka could see that this lady, not Fratameier, led the bunch. He approached her and stood close to further his intimidation. “Mary Baker. Sixty-nine. Widow of five years. Quilter. No major health problems.”
“How do you know?” She gave Fratameier a sidelong glance.“We have had to keep track of you a few days before this, to better understand your makeup. Believe it or not, all of you are now part person, part machine.”
“What!” said Margol Higgins. She moved too fast and knocked over Fratameier’s nearby collection of old coins, the booklets falling to the floor. “I’m going home. This is too weird, William!” She picked up her purse, heading for the door. Daka blocked the exit.
“Please, ladies. Please. Have a seat while I attend to Ms. George.” He waited for them to sit in their respective places around the large table and then crouched down to see how Rachel George was doing.
“Is she all right?” said Mary. “What have you done?”
“She is fine,” said Daka after measuring her pulse and breathing. He stood up and stretched his muscular arms. “She just needs some more rest. The nanites have just hit her a little harder due to her age, I guess.”
“Nanites? Mister, ah, Daka,” said Fratameier. The older man played with his glasses and tugged at his shirt. “We are listening, but only for a moment before, maybe, we do need to call the police.”
“Daka, tell them what I say, nothing more,” said Kevill in his earpiece. “Remind them of the necklaces they wear. Tell them how happy and productive they will be now that not only are they linked to God but to each other. Tell Fratameier the truth about his implants. Tell them to feel the image of the Torus.”
Daka pointed to the pendants around each of their necks. Everyone looked; a few gasped.  He repeated Kevill’s message.
“The Torus,” he explained, standing there like a totem pole, arms crossed, mouth barely opening, “is a picture of God. Now, you all can feel the connection to the universe more powerfully due to your nanite implants. God works through you, inside you. And your connection to each other only augments the process. Take a few moments to feel that process inside.”
The women and Fratameier were silent for a moment before Mary Baker spoke up.

“I don’t know exactly how you did it, but past my headache I do indeed have such feelings! It’s like I have a new pair of eyes out of the back of my head!”
“Theoretically, out of someone else’s eyes, I guess,” said Daka. “The pain and inevitable illness from the immune systems fighting the new bugs inside will pass. And then, my friends, you all will feel these wonderful feelings all the time.”
“Good,” said Kevill in his ear. “Now pick up the dozing Miss George, and convoy back here to the lab.”
Daka stooped over and easily pulled the unconscious Miss George to her feet. Dr. Fratameier helped to escort him out the front door and place her in the back seat of his car. The other ladies, cautious, came out of the house and looked to Fratameier for direction.
“We have to believe this man, ladies. We have to believe this is a whole new world for us! He is a messenger of God!”
They stood on Fratameier’s porch, turning to Mary Baker, who stared at Rachel George’s slumped body and their new acquaintance, Daka. She let out a deep breath and said, “My horoscope said something big was coming this week. Ladies, we have been quilting and gossiping for years, and now this happens. No one has husbands. We all live alone. Maybe God is giving us a chance to do something more.
“Hell, maybe we need to see where Mister Daka is going.”
“That’s the spirit, Ms. Baker,” said Daka. “Doctor Fratameier, if you would honor me by following in your car. Ladies, pick your seats.”
They all piled into Fratameier’s car except for Mary Baker, who followed Daka to his.
“I’ll take a risk on you, Mister Daka. Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t, Ms. Baker. Thank you for the confidence. Just wait until you see the beauty of our plan. Doctor Kevill will explain it all.”
At that, they drove a nice, leisurely Saturday afternoon drive toward the lab and a debriefing by Kevill himself.

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