The Torus Project

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

Chapter 2 (v.1)

Submitted: February 04, 2011

Reads: 66

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 04, 2011

A A A

A A A

Chapter 2
5:37 p.m., Friday
 
A freckle-faced boy sat in the back seat of Brian’s beat-up ’97 Saturn, squirming under his belt after hearing the news.
“But, Dad, I don’t want a sitter!”
“Dad’s gotta go out with friends sometime, just like you spend time with your buddies at school.”
A slight pause. “You go to school, Dad.”
Wilson was sharp. Although not quite in kindergarten, he was second grade material. He could not only read and write beyond his age but also think in more sophisticated ways. Better, though, not to push his boy too hard, Brian reminded himself. Emotions were still raw. Wilson, now five, had only been two at the time of the accident, but a huge hole remained in both their lives, a hole Brian was doing his best to fill.
“You’re right, guy,” Brian said, reaching back to give Wilson a scrub on his short, brown hair. “You’re right, but Ms. Baker’s still coming over tonight.”
“But, Dad!”
They swerved into the student housing lot and got out of the rusty-red car. Bushes lined rows of neatly trimmed, tan apartment buildings, all looking the same. A scrawny teenager pushed his mower up and down a belt of green grass. Past the lot, a small pond, fitted with a fountain, drew ducks for an afternoon nap.
Not the most ideal place Brian had envisioned in raising his only son, but it worked for now. The apartment was close to campus for one, a campus that also offered cheaper day-care facilities for full-time students . . . and better security than other apartment complexes he had seen around town.
“What are you doing tonight, Dad?” Wilson looked up with a wicked half-smile. His face still held plumpness from babyhood; his blue-green eyes indicated a whirring brain. Brian knew the routine. Wilson was in his question phase. Why do we have fingers? Why do birds fly? Why can’t dad cook as well as Ms. Baker? Cute for most—and a clue Wilson was intellectually advanced. But Brian had fast encountered the annoying side of the scenario as well.
“Seeing friends, Wilson, like I said.”
“What friends?”
“Maybe Jackie. You remember Jackie, right? She rides bikes with us sometimes?”
“Ah, huh.” Brian turned the key to their two-bedroom apartment, with Wilson losing interest in their conversation once he saw the new video game Brian had bought for him the other day. The video game system sprawled across the floor in front of their TV/computer monitor, wires and DVD cases and little picture books outlining the games’ characters. The mess stretched throughout the small living room. Brian liked the place even though he didn’t clean it everyday. Nothing much—an old, off-white couch bought cheap from a friend, a couple of soft chairs, a pair of lamps, some cheap art deco prints—but it had grown into a home for him and his boy.
“Ms. Baker is old-fashioned. No plugging up to video games all night and ignoring her. I’ve told her to read you a story.”“A story?” Wilson turned back to his dad with a frown and a mischievous look in his eyes, his video game just getting started on the monitor.
“Yes, a story. Out of a real book that I think we may have around here somewhere. You put some pajamas on, and I’ll wrestle up some food before she gets here. Now, go!”
Brian took a fake lunge at Wilson as the boy went screaming down the hall to his bedroom.
So much like his mother, Brian thought. The eyes, the hair, even the mannerisms, it seemed. But Ms. Baker wasn’t going to cut it, he knew. Wilson needed a real mom someday, someone who could love him in ways Brian couldn’t. So, maybe, tonight was his lucky night.
He forced a smile, poured some macaroni into a pot, and stirred vigorously for a few seconds before remembering to add the water and the heat.
 
#
 
Friday, 9:35 p.m.
Sam’s was simply Sam’s.
Some would say a hole-in-the-wall, but for Brian’s little psychology pack it was a home away from home. Tunes from the ‘80s and ‘90s played instead of that new electro-charm stuff; beer was served in heavy frosted mugs, and the atmosphere was relaxing. A good place to kick back and be with friends.
“Hey, Bri, glad you could make it! We were beginning to wonder.”
Jackie had changed from the provocative lycra student wear to a more party-friendly skirt and blouse combination that flaunted her exercised arms and thighs. She was with a guy and a girl around a sturdy, glass-topped table on which sat a pitcher of brew and four mugs.
“Thanks, Jack. Wilson’s behind bars, so bring on the beer!”
“That’s the spirit!” The guy, Mike Reynolds, a psychology senior, raised his mug in the air with a smile and took a drink. A little high-strung, some would say, Brian thought Mike was also one of the nicest guys you could meet. The dual-nature lent itself well to domineering grad students and faculty, who often took advantage of Mike in helping out with their experiments. He had become a guinea pig and a research “runner”, nickname for the person who really conducts things but never gets credit.
“Hey, Brian,” said Mike over an old Police song, pushing a mug in front of his friend. His Hawaiian shirt and gelled-up red hair fit his outgoing personality. “What did you think about old Kevill in class today?”
“What about him?”
“What was up with that brain and the universe stuff? Sometimes the man is really narfed, don’t ya think?” Narfed was a recent addition to college language, an adjective, meaning, “not understood by our age group.” Although Brian was in his late twenties compared to his friends, who were five-to-six-years younger, anyone not in their pack was included in the word’s definition.
“Yeah.” Jackie looked away from a wordless eye conversation she and the other girl at the table were having. “The guy’s totally out there. Smart, but, hello, come down from planet Mars!”
“I don’t know.” Brian twirled his beer. He took in the one-room bar, packed with college students shooting pool, drinking, shooting darts. He realized, even in the midst of the crowd, with his friends, he felt alone. Time to relax, Brian. Relax. “He makes sense in a weird sort of way.”
“Uh, oh. He’s got . . . what’s that term, Mike?”
“Huh? Yes. Role Envy.”
“Or is it penis envy?” Jackie asked.
Jackie’s friend, Carol, spewed beer. A tall, thin brunette, she had defected from computer science to the psychs only this past semester because it was “more personal,” Carol said. She was trying to be more personable as well but still seemed to struggle with the whole extroverted thing; her wiry fingers and gaunt, absorbed frame had had many years of introverted practice. Carol’s seat, not by accident, had been positioned beside the late-coming Brian’s. They’d met before a few times around campus, but, even with Jackie’s prodding—“You need a date!”—he couldn’t get up the nerve to ask.
“Ha, ha, guys.” Brian put his elbows on the table and threw back hair that had fallen in his face. “I decided to ask Kevill about that homework assignment after class today.”
“What homework assignment?” Carol asked through a napkin, wiping her face. She was the only one of their group not taking Dr. Kevill’s “Physiology of the Brain” class that semester.
Jackie rescued her friend. “Kevill asked us, what, Brian, to analyze a belief through our three-pound universe? Our brains, I guess—to see why we believe such and such. Like why we think the Sooners are number one, etcetera.”
“Well, they are number one, right? What’s the point?”
Computer code was definitely her forte, Brian thought.
“My point exactly,” said Jackie, rolling her eyes and eyeing a tight-jeaned guy across the room playing pool.“Anyway,” Mike forced himself through, “you did what, Brian?”
“I went to Kevill’s office in Montor to ask him about that assignment.”
“Oh, ho, ho. The servant goes to meet his master! Room 309, right? Third on the left? He’s got a pretty wild plasma-screen in there, I hear. Did you see it?” Mike’s frequent “volunteering” as a runner meant he had pretty much lived in Montor Hall doing experiments the past few semesters.
“Well, I didn’t get much of a chance to really see his office . . . or talk to him for that matter.” Brian took a slug of beer, his face a little glum.
“Blow you off?” said Mike, thumping his fingers to the rhythm of the music.
“Kinda. He said office hours were over and that he had an appointment across campus.” Brian paused a moment, deciding whether or not to divulge this next piece of information to his compatriots. “I did overhear something before I knocked on his door, though.”
“Do tell!” Jackie’s attention zoomed back to her table’s conversation. From somewhere she had produced a small mirror and was gazing at herself.
“Well, I don’t think it’s much, but maybe you know, Carol. He mentioned something, I think, in a holo—”
“He’s got a holo?” asked Carol.
“Yeah, I caught a peek of it after I gained what little entrance I did.”
“That’s neat. How big was it?”
“Typical size, I guess,” Brian said. He caught a whiff of Carol’s perfume and got distracted from his original thought.“Those things are expensive. Not many faculty have ‘em,” Mike said. He finished off his beer and poured another.
“Well, anyway. He said something in his holo conversation about nans and a chem master. Beats the hell outta me.”
“Nans?” Carol muttered, puckering her mouth. “Nans, of course, could mean nanotechnites, little pieces of nanotechnology that are used for any number of purposes—to mow your lawn, to clean your fish tank, even, some are saying, to keep your arteries unclogged. It’s a pretty hot area right now.”
“But why the heck would Doctor Kevill be talking about it?” said Mike. “He’s mainly a brain guy. Are nans used to clean the brain, too?”
“Only yours, Reynolds,” said Jackie, nudging Mike shoulder to shoulder. “Periodic maintenance. And what a wonderful piece of technology for you!”
Mike gave Jackie a fake punch in return.
Brian murmured into his mug, “That is kind of weird. Makes me wonder if nanotechnology has anything to do with the brain and brain research.”
“Could,” said Carol, trying to make a connection with something that evidently had meaning to Brian.
“Geez, fly guy. Have another beer.  I think you are getting too close to your idol, Doctor Kevill.” A light apparently popped in Jackie’s head. “Carol, my dear, why don’t you and Brian take this boring moment and liven it up with a dance?” She gestured toward Sam’s miniature wooden dance floor, about three meters away from their table. It was packed with writhing, yelling bodies releasing energy and hormones.
Carol wavered. Brian still thought about his Kevill quandary. But with the prompting of both Mike and Jackie, hands were held, and, as they were getting up from the table, Carol was pulling the hesitant Brian toward the floor. For the first time, Brian noticed that Carol was wearing a revealing black dress, which further accentuated the ex-Computing Science student’s curves and white skin.
Jackie scooted Brian along with a final push. “And, Bri, if you think about it, Kevill is waaay too close to ‘evil’, huh?”
Carol’s pull getting stronger, he looked down at Jackie, half-way registering the point, when out of nowhere an intoxicating female voice entered Brian’s other ear, a different perfume scent instantly grabbing his attention.
“Yes, but good and evil are so passé, are they not?” A brunette, shorter than Carol, had entered the scene from the recesses of the bar. Eyes turned to take her in, and, when Brian caught sight of her, he felt a twinge go through his body. His hand let loose the grip on Carol’s, sending her on to the dance floor alone, stumbling.
“Good and evil.” The brunette looked into Brian’s eyes. She wore jeans and a matching blue and green-striped shirt and vest. “So in the past, don’t you think?”
The mystery girl still had eyes only for Brian. “I’m Amber. Amber Hays.” She stretched her hand to Brian, who stood dumbfounded for a second before pulling his shoulders back, putting his chin up, and replying with a firm military shake.
“Brian Minor. Are . . . Are—”
An evidently angry Jackie, getting half-way up from her seat, broke in. “—you a student here?”
“Philosophy.” Amber faced Brian and hardly gave Jackie a look. Carol had returned, miffed from her short, solo dance and planted herself next to Jackie again at the table. She sent laser beams Amber’s way.
“Philosophy.” Brian regained conversational abilities. “Interesting. Would you like to sit with us for a beer, maybe?” The girls huffed and rolled their eyes. Mike just sat back, enjoying the show.
“I’d love to.” Amber’s body, at 5’4”, was nicely figured, between athletic Jackie’s and slim Carol’s. Brian and Mike were only too happy to make room for the new acquaintance. “I just enrolled here this past semester, so I haven’t made a lot of friends yet.”
The group paused a moment to take in their unforeseen addition.
“So, Amber, who you here with?” Jackie raised her eyebrows, looking around for person or persons accompanying the new member of their party. Everyone else at the table did as well, but they took in only people with people—at the dance floor, at nearby tables, at the main bar itself, with Sam serving drinks, surrounded by TV sets and bottles of various alcohols along the wall.
“No one. I just decided to take a risk and let the gods steer events tonight.”
Carol let out a low groan and started messing with her makeup bag.
“Amber,” Brian said, “these are my friends Jackie, Carol, and Mike. All psych majors, glad the semester is almost over.”
“I hear that,” Amber said.
“Well, I’ll flag us down some more beer,” Mike said. “Amber, anything special?”
“Just what you guys are having is fine. Thanks!”
Brian’s heart was pounding; he had to keep up the conversation with this beauty who had dropped in from the Heavens.
“Are you an Okie, Amber, or from out of state?”
“An Okie. Born and raised near Tishomingo. Know where that is?” Her eyes bored into Brian. Deep blue. He felt like he could breathe her in all night.
“Uh . . . I think so.”
“What about you?”
“From out of state, actually. Nebraska. But I spent so much time here with the Air Force and at Tinker Air Force Base down the road and all that I decided to stay and go to school here at OU.”
“Amber,” Jackie pushed her way in. “I can’t help but notice what a cute necklace that is. Unique. Where did you get it?”
“Oh, this thing?” She fingered a slim chain that held a silver pendant shaped like a figure eight. “It’s been in my family for awhile. An heirloom you could say.”
“Striking.”
“Yes,” Amber replied. “Yes, it is.”
 
#
 
Located in an off-campus basement, Dr. Andrew Kevill was now dressed in khaki slacks and a loose-fitting shirt. He conversed in hushed tones with a peevish-looking gentleman, mid-40s, dark hair, glasses, dressed in a suit. 
Due to nature of the miniature technology with which they worked, some personnel in the upstairs lab wore lab coats, elastic paper hats and shoes, and gloves to avoid any unnecessary contamination. Another, larger nanotechnology lab on campus in the Department of Engineering, though, did most of the preliminary research requiring such special care. For Kevill, his crew, and guests—they usually did away with the formalities and focused mainly on computer applications of what had previously been developed.
“With a semester break coming on, Doctor Kevill, we expect the experimental phase of Project Master to be completed,” said Frank Barnes, Department of Defense liaison for the project.
“That’s asking quite a bit, don’t you think, Frank?” Kevill placed his hand on a humming piece of machinery, oval in shape, smooth and black. A thick wire ran from it to what looked like a larger server unit next to the wall. The expansive, white-walled room housed four such devices, each placed beside an adjoining wall and each connected to a similar server unit. Toward the middle of the room, seemingly unconnected to anything but nonetheless active, lay a wrought-metal pedestal—only centimeters high—that shone light as a search beam would. Within that powerful beam that shone to a similar pedestal attached to the 12-meter-high ceiling, encased in glass, thousands of dust particles could be seen passing. But, for anyone who stared at the light for longer than a glance, the random dust particles were really not random at all. They had patterns; they moved in unison. Up and down and diagonal, the particles mesmerized.
“We just started the test phase earlier this year. These things take time.” Kevill was fully in his charismatic aura now, arm on his visitor’s shoulders, his other arm gesturing with force and intent. “Don’t get me wrong. Defense grants are the life-blood of our project. Without ‘em, we would be nothing, but you must consider the progression of science.”
“Yes, Mister Barnes.” Doctor Heinrich “Josh” Uhland, Kevill’s right-hand man in the project, spoke. “We are uniting very precise computer technology here with the most advanced of places in the animal organism . . . the brain.” Now in his mid-30s, Josh had moved to the U.S. from Germany only just recently. With the help of a father intrigued by technology, he became attuned to the newest and latest in his homeland, graduated from the University of Hamburg, and worked at a research lab there before coming to teach computer science at OU, specializing in the burgeoning fielding of nanotechnology.
“We understand time. The government is budgeted on time, doctors, but, for the amount of money you are receiving, we also expect results. When can we expect level two results?” Barnes stood stiff and craned his neck to look at the room’s pillar of light that was as thick as an average man’s torso. Inside, the particles moved like a continual Star Trek “beam me up”, magnified by the diamond-encased glass casing for effect.
“Level two? Level two. Oh, yes, that is within our sights. If you will allow Josh here to go over the schematics, he can estimate a solid benchmark for you, right, Josh?” Josh and Kevill’s eyes met with an understood communication.
“Sure, Doctor Kevill.” Josh turned to face the defense agent and continued in his German accent. “Mister Barnes, I have the plans in my office . . . if you will?” And they left down a corridor that led away from the main room. Alone, Kevill surveyed his project.
After the pair had left and after he had approached the light more closely, Kevill whispered to the pillar. “My beauty.  You are the passport to paradise, not some power scheme of domination those boys in the Washington would like.”
He walked around the beam, staring at the particles’ dance, catching glimpses of his own reflection in the glass tube that held them. Closing his eyes and listening to the low hum echoing around the white-painted room, he thought up a tune:
One at a time, through and through, like those motes in the air, they will come . . . they will come and be at peace in the light. The magic has been given. The dose has been measured. Now, now, let us join, my brothers and sisters, unite in the peace we were born to know . . . 


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