The Torus Project

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

Chapter 20 (v.1)

Submitted: February 10, 2011

Reads: 67

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Submitted: February 10, 2011



Chapter 20
10:45 a.m., Sunday
Daka, in dark blue suit and a red tie, painted a different image than his usual relaxed and colorful wear. Seated in his parked Volvo in an expansive church lot, the African flipped open his handheld computer and scanned an image of a graying man in his fifties, also dressed in a suit, a steering wheel between him and the camera.
The man was talking, but Daka heard no voices through the computer since his mini-camera was stuck inconspicuously on the outside of the windshield on a wiper blade. The foreground steering wheel turned, and Daka himself noticed the car enter the area. He switched off the monitor and pressed another button on the device.
“They’re here,” he said, watching closely where the man and his family parked.
“Good,” came Kevill’s voice. “You know the plan. Approach. Spray. Apologize. Leave.”
“Right,” said Daka. “Are you sure these things won’t get into me?” He fingered a small glass bottle in his suit pocket. Daka knew about the project as a whole but still wasn’t quite proficient on the science behind it.
“Time dependent, plus attuned only to his DNA. But avoid breathing in . . . just in case.”
“Right,” he repeated, shutting off the computer and quickly exiting his car. He would rather have gotten their next inoculant in a secluded spot on campus (or even in his sleep), but Kevill had insisted a church setting was more appropriate to the task. “Ironic,” the doctor had said. Daka wondered if his leader wasn’t getting a little too caught up in this game of changing people’s minds.
The African stalked his prey, a lion after an antelope, though not too fast to cause a distraction. He procured what looked to be a bottle of cologne from inside his suit jacket. The prey, dark suit polished with gold cufflinks, hair gelled back to precision, was opening the Lexus door for his wife, showing a smile. Daka passed him, spraying a shot of the bottle’s contents fully into his face.
“So sorry,” said Daka, stopping like he hadn’t noticed the family until now. “I wasn’t looking and seemed to have missed my collar.”
The man coughed, flailing his hand in front of his face, his smile quickly diminishing to a frown. His wife looked up worriedly. Daka, holding his breath, noticed the spray had kept to the victim’s head, quickly dissipating.
“Laying on the cologne kind of thick, aren’t you, bub?” he said.
“Yes. So sorry.” Daka began to leave.
He coughed again. “I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?”
The lion paused, now the prey. “Yes, new,” he uttered. “Just started working at the university. Come from Kenya.”
He rubbed his eyes and sneezed. “Oh? What department? I don’t remember your file.”
“File, sir?”
“Forgive me. Bob Nelson, OU president. I review new faculty files as part of my duties.” He extended his hand.
Daka took it and shook. “A pleasure, sir. Daka Nabouti. Research, department of computing science.”
Dr. Nelson turned to introduce his wife and two girls.
“Research, eh? Maybe that’s why I missed you. Come by during the week sometime, all right?”
Daka headed toward the church entrance. “Yes, sir. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again soon.” 
The ornate, brick building was a grandiose monstrosity to the African, its main chapel huge with stone carvings flanking the doorway and roof. Multiple side buildings spread out, holding who knows what. Nothing like this in my hometown, he thought, looking up at the church’s steeple high above the parking lot. He stepped in confidently, took a program, and found a seat toward the back of the large chapel. The president entered a few minutes later, talking and smiling, shaking many hands on his way with his family toward the front.
Daka repositioned himself for a clear view of the back of Dr. Nelson’s head. No other blacks in here, he noticed with some chagrin. But all this will change with the project, all this will change. He allowed himself to daydream as organ music filled the room, images of people of all races and backgrounds coming together to share ideas.
But it didn’t take long for Daka to notice Nelson massaging his temples during the opening chorus of the service. A few minutes later, he saw the president’s wife asking her husband a question, and, subsequently, when the congregation stood up for the first time to sing, the president noticeably faltered, swaying to one side. Soon the whole family could be seen exiting their pew to many worried looks and murmurs from the church-goers, a few of which got up to assist the president down the red carpeted aisle.
Nelson walked hunched over, in evident pain, but his eyes found Daka’s before he exited, a look of panic, fear, and possible incredulity on his face. The early departure let Daka know his mission had been a success. 
After the commotion died down a bit, he, too, exited, going outside to monitor his handheld computer. He saw Nelson’s wife now drove the car on which he had affixed the mini-camera. But the president wasn’t sitting next to her. Instead, the oldest of their two girls sat in the front seat, with the other child in the back. Where did he go?
Daka pressed a button to bring up a street map on his computer, with a moving blip reading on the LCD screen. He rushed to his own car and headed toward the president’s vehicle, its camera also serving as a positioning device.
“Kevill. He’s been hit,” he said, talking into the handheld as he approach his own car, “but I think someone other than his family is taking him to the hospital. In pursuit now.”
Silence for a few moments on the other end.
“We’re reading his signs now, Daka. Did you lose him?”
“Tracking him off the camera on his vehicle. Feeding through now.” He pressed another button while starting up and driving his car out of the lot.
Another brief silence. “Okay. Is this on the president’s car or the friend’s?”
“President, sir. Can you get a read on him personally?”
“Josh is working on that . . . hold on.”
Daka sped up to get closer to his tracked vehicle.
“Okay. Yes, it looks like a different car has brought him to Norman Regional. Damn fools must have thought he had a heart attack or something!”
“Should I follow, sir?”
“No. I don’t want anyone placing you at both places. Return to the lab. Kevill out.”
Kevill, dressed in jeans, a maroon t-shirt, and a white blazer, worked on the lab’s main computer in the office, Josh right by his side. His assistant had on his usual tight, dark jeans and black t-shirt, his hair slicked back with gel. The German’s jaw clenched and unclenched as he monitored the situation.
“Will the docs read anything we should be aware of, Josh?” Kevill looked a little worried. He reached back and stretched out his pony-tailed hair.
“Shouldn’t, sir. Blood will register only high levels of adrenaline. His brain waves may go a bit elevated, but since the probes mimic natural brain chemicals, he’ll hit normal again with some good sleep.”
“Okay. Monitor him closely, and keep the probes low key for now. We don’t need anything to trigger a closer investigation.” But Kevill had another thought. “What about a brain scan?”
“Like I said, the readings should be somewhat elevated, but even a CAT scan or M-R-I shouldn’t yield anything out of the ordinary. The nano-devices are just too small.”
Josh brought up a schematic on the computer that showed Dr. Nelson’s vital signs and a progression of the nanite movement inside his skull.
“You see,” he pointed out to Kevill. “They’ve already attached themselves to the hypothalamus and are in the process of replicating existing neurons to etch out new chemical pathways.”
“Yes, I know,” said Kevill, now biting on his lower lip. “That’ll give him the headaches, the jitters, the hallucinations.” He pondered why some individuals took the initial inoculation harder than others—some with simple headaches, others fainting and almost on the point of a stroke.
“Uh, huh.” Josh looked at Kevill as if to say, This is your area, Doctor, not mine. “It must be like a migraine at first, followed by memories coming and going without cue. The hallucinations arise from chemical memories resorting and linking up with the optical nerves. The subject will go to sleep, the brain shutting itself down to adapt to the new processes. After that, it’s a whole new way of thinking.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Kevill, getting up and pacing the room “Just don’t want anything to go wrong. That’s all. God knows we’ve had enough curveballs lately.”
“Sure, Herr Doctor,” said Josh. “I’m positive we’ll have President Nelson up and running in twenty-four hours. No physician at the hospital will suspect anything more major than a minor stroke or heart attack, if that.”
Minutes later, both men turned as Daka entered the room.
“Good work, Doctor Nabouti,” said Kevill, patting his accomplice on a well-muscled shoulder. “A public place wasn’t the best, but probably the only way, right?”
Daka thought again of Kevill’s insistence on the very public place of a church service. “I just worry he or his wife will search me out, sir.”
“They don’t know you from John.”
“I introduced myself to them,” he said, looking Kevill straight in the eye.
“Oh, did you now?” Kevill, no longer smiling, stared at Daka. “Why did you do a damn thing like that?”
“He asked me, sir. But I don’t see no harm. He’ll know me better soon enough.”
“But what about his wife?”
“Can’t we soon get her, too?”
Kevill stepped back and shot a look at Josh.
“Now, let’s not start picking your own marks, Daka. I’ll run the inoculation list, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, sir. Sure.” He walked over and sat down, lighting a cigarette and filling the room with a smoky smell. “I’m sure everything will be okay.”
Josh gave Daka a dirty look and stared at Kevill in disgust.
Kevill ignored them both.
“You two monitor President Nelson. I’ve got an appointment on campus.”
He left the room, knowing Josh would get onto Daka for the cigarette and his blasé attitude toward the project.
Brian awoke to Wilson crawling in bed with him, snuggling close. The visit brought comfort after a busy night and reminded him that this unit—father and son—was the most important thing.
In contrast to the previous day, his son’s small, warm body, soft in its pajamas, brought back memories of his best day, the day Wilson was born. Sure, he wasn’t the most planned-out pregnancy. Two kids in love, Brian remembered, relieving stress from long days either repairing planes or flying in them produced Wil. They had gotten married after the fact, so his son was born a good seven months after Brian’s second-best memory, the actual wedding ceremony.
Base hospitals aren’t known for their soft edges. That day Rebecca was in definite pain, and Brian, he recalled, was a mental wreck. Old Wilson, though. He decided to take his sweet time. 
The doctor was a veteran of war and at least a hundred births. Both life and death were mixed together for him, you could say, his stern face taunt in the task, his hands working precisely to bring Wilson into the world.
Brian remembered looking at Rebecca—just so beautiful. A primal moment. She glistened under that stark room’s lights, her long brown hair wet with exertion, her face breathing frantically to keep up the rhythm. Finally, after what seemed like hours, a tiny voice entered the room, a new presence. Wil had arrived, all red and blue. Brian recalled growing faint when his little bloody head finally poked out. A friendly nurse saw his wooziness and squeezed his hand, centering him there in the birthing room.
It had reminded Brian of a calf birth he had witnessed back in Nebraska as a boy. He felt a miracle had happened then. He knew it again this time, but the feeling was a hundred times stronger. He looked at Rebecca and his new boy and couldn’t help but smile. And when his wife held the baby, with her smile and a soft touch to Wilson’s head, everything seemed right in the world. Everything seemed full and rich, and time stopped for a minute as he had taken in the scene.
That had been Brian’s best memory by far.
He lay there, remembering, softly rubbing Wilson’s back, when he heard his cell ringing from the living room. The beeping brought him back to reality.
“Hey, Jack. Calling kinda early, aren’t ya?” Her face on video looked tired, worried.
Jackie pushed forward with her own conversation, excited. “I called Mike, asked him about some of the stuff you told me last night. He’s weirded out, Bri. I tell you, he didn’t give me a straight answer on anything! Pretty much told me to blow off in so many words. That’s not like him!”
“I’m not surprised,” Brian said with a yawn. Wilson still lay asleep during the conversation. “I tell you, Jack. We’re into something neck deep . . . I know it.”
“Maybe if both of us go and see him—” She bit her lip.“Not worth the risk.” Having trouble keeping Amber’s parting look out of his head, he told Jackie about his date’s strange visit the previous night and the further revelations she had given before being pushed away with pain.
“Are you serious?” Jackie’s eyes grew wide. “Computers in their heads? What? Is this some kind of science fiction story? How do you know she’s just not whacked out, crazy you know? Sorry to break this to you, Bri, but maybe your girlfriend is not working on all cylinders.”
“Uh, huh. And Mike’s telling you to get lost just for the heck of it, eh?”
Jackie paused, looking off camera and back again. Her lips puckered. “Brian, I’m scared.”
“Me, too.” Brian patted Wilson on the back and looked off-camera around his bedroom—the usual dresser and bedside table plus pictures of his family back home, mom, dad, sister, brother. “Now that they know I know, what will happen next? Maybe I should take the summer off and go home with Wilson to Nebraska. Maybe I should leave today . . .”
“Just leave. Just like that?”
“If there’s a virus infecting people’s heads, Jack, do you blame me? I’ve got to protect Wilson! You should leave, too!” He realized as soon as saying it, though, that things weren’t going to be that easy. He had a court date from evading the police.
“But what about Mike? Your babysitter? Amber even? Come on, Brian, I know better than you that you have feelings for the girl. What if? What if, you know, there’s a cure?”
“A cure? I don’t even know how to explain the illness, Jackie. How are we going to find a cure?” He sat up in bed, jostling their camera conversation a bit and moving Wil’s body in the process.
“I’ll call Carol. She’s good at computers. The three of us could do some research today, or at least you two could while I watch Wilson.”
“I don’t think you understand.  This is a government project we’re talking about. Top-secret stuff. They’re not just going to have a manual on it at the library!” After Brian said the words, though, he knew he had to do something. For a reason maybe he was in the middle of this mess, and he couldn’t allow his fears over Wilson outweigh his need to push the envelope, to fight for what felt right. Being a man, remember?“Okay, okay,” he said. “Call Carol. We’ll be at your place in a bit.”
“And bring that information.”
“What information?”
“That list of projects you got from Mike. Remember?”Brian had totally forgotten about the disc he had copied to his drive, the disc that had held a list of nanotech projects. For all he knew, that was the piece that had gotten him and his friends into trouble in the first place. Couldn’t they track access to the list anyway? He didn’t want Kevill knowing more about Jackie and Carol than he probably already did.
“That list seems like a hot potato. You think we can handle it?”
“It’s one of our only leads. Bring it, okay?”
“Okay. See you later.”
Two men sat in the teacher’s lounge of Montor Hall, a smell of day-old donuts filling the air along with dried coffee grounds and a trace of potpourri one of the faculty had nestled about to try and liven up the air.
An old couch lined one wall, with three or four computer monitors set up along another. Not a big room by far, only enough for four or five people comfortably. The pair sat around a white and black table, two rickety, wooden chairs creaking under their weight.
“Don’t we have funds to fix up this place?” said Kevill, sipping on some coffee from a Styrofoam cup. He’d taken down his ponytail, hair now loose about his shoulders. A handheld computer rested face-up on the table between the men.
“Mainly just adjuncts and TAs use this room, Andrew. I guess they don’t rate.” The other man also sipped some coffee, his wrinkled hands and face coming together as he drew the steamingcup close to his lips. A good twenty years older than Kevill, Dr. Carson Montgomery wore a beard and short crew-cut hair, both gray. Cotton dress shirt and slacks looked as though he had recently come from church.
“Why’d you call this meeting anyway? Couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” He eyed Kevill’s computer and took another sip of coffee.
Kevill ignored the question. “We go back a long time, right, Carson?”
“Sure, Andy. It’s been a pleasure to work along side you all these years, seeing you grow into one of the best in the field. Seeing you grow as a person as well.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.” Kevill’s usual charisma diminished in Dr. Montgomery’s presence. The relationship took on a father-son feel to him.
“So you know some of the research I’ve been doing lately?”Montgomery sat back in his chair and scratched his neck. “Heard about it a little,” he said in a low bass. “Government grant. Computers and psychology. Not really my field, youknow.” 
Kevill knew his mentor had always stuck to the basics in psychology, never venturing into experimental psych and new theories. He was old school and although past retirement age, still regularly taught Psychology 101 and Social Psychology, his expertise.
“Remember Doctor Hays?”
Montgomery’s face frowned up for a moment. “We’re all still raw about that one. Tragedy, pure tragedy. You still in touch with his daughter? I know the two of you were pretty close after the death and all.”
Kevill looked into his coffee and stirred it, ripples filling the small cup. He remembered that night, though trying to push it away, he and Hays working on the nanites. How excited Hays was . . .
“Anthony, we’re ready for test.”
“Good, Doctor Kevill. Good.” He hovered over a precursor to one of four actuators that now inhabited Kevill’s basement nano-lab. Kevill stood in the office, speaking to Hays via a speaker. “Pass the first stream.”
“Right.” He looked at Hays through the office window into the main lab. The man wore a white lab coat, glasses, and protective eyewear. Dark-brown hair was cut short. He focused all attention on the actuator and a metal pillar in the center of the lab that served as a base for a long, glass tube—the width of a man—running from floor to ceiling. “Initiating stage one.”
Kevill pressed a button from the office computer that triggered a chain event. Hays’ actuator, a jet-black, curved piece of machinery with its own control panel on top, came to life. In turn, the pedestal in the lab’s middle emitted a whirring noise. An exact copy of the pedestal on the ceiling mimicked the sound.
“Stage one is go,” said Hays. His glasses reflected the lab’s light. He smiled and looked back at Kevill, who monitored a stream of unseen activity on the office’s holo readout over the room’s table. “Let’s go on.”
“Proceeding to stage two, Doctor Hays. Integrating now.” Kevill hit another button from his office sanctuary. Again, the actuator in the other room blipped, the pedestal whirred; but, now, the glass tube casing flexed. It seemed to warp.
“Magnification!” said Hays in awe. He pressed a few buttons onthe actuator device. “Excellent . . . but wait.”
“Are you reading a loss of stream?”
Kevill’s holo display did indeed show a fluctuation in their nano-cluster activity within the glass casing. “Yes, yes, sir.”
Hays’ face went ashen. “They’re out,” he whispered. “They’re out!” He covered his mouth, his glasses toppling to the floor, and ran toward Kevill’s position. “Lock down! Lock down!”
Kevill quickly shut the experiment down from his controls, but the damage had been done. Hays never made it to the office. Scrambling past the pedestal and tubing, he suddenly fainted, never to regain consciousness. Kevill, though, had taken emergency precautions; he had survived.
He blinked back to the present. “Yeah. She’s a student here.”
“Great . . .” Montgomery put down his cup and stared hard at his friend. “Andy, what’s on your mind?”
Kevill turned his small computer to face Montgomery and activated a program on it. The data showed numbers of nanoprobes produced along with their composition and computing speeds.
“What’s this? Your research?”
“Yes,” said Kevill eagerly. A bead of sweat trickled down his balding forehead.
“You sure you need to be showing me this, Andy?”
“It’s okay.”
Montgomery studied the numbers for a moment.“Nanotechnology? Each of these is a computer on its own?”“Exactly.”
“But why show me this, Andy? Do you want me to tell you it’s okay to conduct research for the Department of Defense?”Kevill held the computer in his hands like a baby, caressing the plastic sides. He looked down at the numbers again and back up at Montgomery, an expression of expectation on his face. “Partly, Carson. Partly. I’ve . . . we’ve gone a little further than the government knows here. Yes, they’re interested in creating a hybrid of man and machine, a soldier of the future able to think better, anticipate more, communicate without handheld devices.”
Montgomery’s eyebrows rose a little at the apparent depth of his colleague’s research. “But?”
Kevill talked in low, pressured tones. “But going off of Doctor Hays’ research, the hybrid of man and machine could in fact be something beneficial to the human race!”
“How do you mean?” The older man eyed the room’s only door for a moment.
“You know the God Spot Theory, right?”
The older man scratched his neck. “Familiar with it. A place in the brain associated with god concepts and religious experience.”
“Exactly. A spot located in the temporal lobe.” Kevill pointed to his balding head above the right ear.
“But I’ve never been one to believe religiosity can be summed in biology, Andy. The human experience is much more complex than that.”
“Sure, Carson, sure. But we’ve developed a way to implant thoughts with nanotechnology . . . directly stimulating that and other brain regions. We can endow people with a conception of the world that wholly prevents them from taking on stupid acts of conflict, hatred, war!” Kevill pushed a button on his small computer, transforming his research data into a computer simulation of his nanites entering a human host, and turned the screen again toward his mentor.
“Not impossible,” countered Kevill. “Very real.”Montgomery sat in silence for a moment. “So, again, Andy, I ask, what is on your mind? Why tell me all of this?”
But Kevill didn’t fully know. Dr. Montgomery was one of few people he looked up to in the world. His calm demeanor, his work ethic. The man had always been there for him as a colleague.
“I guess I wanted your acceptance. Maybe I wanted a blessing.”
“Research is a tricky thing, Andy,” said Montgomery. He sipped some more of his coffee, straightening up in his chair. “We want it to go well. We want it to work out. But the fact is, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we have to back off and rethink what we’re doing. A hypothesis must be thoroughly tested, you know.
“From what you’ve told me, if it’s indeed true—“
“Oh, it is,” said Kevill. “It is.”
“Well, I don’t agree with it,” he said sharply and pointed at the computer. “No, you’ve taken research and applied it in ways that are . . . simply unethical, Doctor Kevill. I can’t goalongwith that. Not at all.”
Montgomery stood up to leave, his face somber.
Kevill sat there for a moment and wiped his forehead of sweat. The reaction wasn’t unexpected, but the use of his last name instead of Andrew or Andy hurt. He had really wanted his mentor to accept. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Carson. I really am.”
He slipped a spray bottle from under the table, quickly standing up, pointing it at Montgomery, and spraying three fast whiffs into the older man’s face.
Montgomery pulled his hands over his eyes and head, blinking rapidly. “What are you doing?”
Kevill held his breath and stood back both to get away from the nanoparticles in the air and to avoid his mentor’s flailing out and trying to hurt him. 
“Sorry, my friend, but it had to be done. I reached out, don’t you see? Don’t you see the beauty in my project?” He pressed himself against the far wall, his hands behind his back. “No, you couldn’t, but now you will. Carson, you will soon see so many things!”
“You’re mad!” Montgomery finished wiping his face and stepped closer to Kevill. “What have you done to me . . . implanted those chips inside?”
“Not chips, Carson, but real computers, biological computers that, as we speak, attach themselves to your chemical receptors, meshing to memory centers and the visual cortex.”
“No! I don’t believe it!” The older man staggered, shooting Kevill a wild look and heading toward the door. He didn’t make it, collapsing heavily onto the floor only a few meters from the table. He tried to raise himself but failed.“I . . . I feel strange.” The words were slurred; a thin line of saliva trickled from Montgomery’s mouth to the floor.Kevill approached his latest victim and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Sorry, DoctorMontgomery.” He stressed the informal name. “Truly, I am. I had hoped you would join us willingly.”
“You bastard,” Montgomery groaned. “What do you hope to gain?”
“Peace, Carson, peace. The feelings will pass soon. Let’s rest here for a few hours while the initial dizziness and nausea pass through you. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of you.”
Montgomery didn’t answer—his eyes closed, his breathing rapid.
“Deep breaths, Carson. Try to relax and let it flow.”
He pulled the half-unconscious man to the room’s couch and placed him there. Kevill went back to his computer and activated its phone.
“Josh? You there?”
“Yes, sir,” came the familiar face on the computer screen.“Bring up your computer and link it to mine. I have a new set of parameters to send you.”
A pause while the computer scientist hooked up to Kevill’s. The psychology professor looked over at Montgomery and bit his lower lip.
Josh’s eyebrows came up. “Sir? I’m reading a new inoculant. Is this so?” 
“I’m afraid it is. A quicky under duress.” Kevill sounded tense, peeved.
“But who? How did you inoculate?”
“A Doctor Carson Montgomery. You’ll find the specs from my upload.”
“Yes. Coming through.”
“I used unrefined probes from an earlier batch.”
“No DNA correlation?”
“Unable to procure a sample in this case. I’m sure the nanites will serve their purpose well enough, though.”
“Oh.” Josh was silent for a moment. “A psychology faculty member, sir?”
“Yes. A long story . . . but he’s a good catch, Josh, believe me.”
“Whatever you say. But there are . . . complications in using unrefined materials.”
Kevill ignored the statement. “Yes, whatever I say. He’s entering stage one. I’ll monitor from here and escort the man home. Continue monitoring the situation with President Nelson. Kevill out.”
He looked again at Montgomery, who lay with eyes closed and some pain shown on his face. 
“Oh, Carson,” he whispered. “Just couldn’t go along, could you? Well, you’ll see it’s for the best. You and the others will know. Soon enough, all will know how beautiful and orderly the world can be.”

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