The Torus Project

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

Chapter 21 (v.1)

Submitted: February 12, 2011

Reads: 52

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 12, 2011



Chapter 21
11:45 a.m., Sunday
Jackie’s one-bedroom apartment across town from Brian’s place was modern and spotless. She had an arrangement of spring flowers on both the coffee and kitchen tables. Plants sprouted from bookshelves, on top of the TV, and an end table by the sofa, their vines spiraling to the ground. Brian especially liked the reds, yellows, and oranges in a big, fluffy rug Jackie had in the middle of her living room and the pictures she hung, prints of modern masterpieces, abstract and colorful.
Carol sat on the sofa with a handheld computer. Brian guessed she was already doing some research with the thing. Jackie greeted them, but her usual bubbly self was gone, replaced by a sullen look. Brian noticed Carol seemed more subdued than usual as well.
Bringing Wilson along, he planted the tot on the sofa and asked him to sit nicely and play with his video game on Brian’s handheld while the adults talked. Of course, he didn’t really believe that would be the case, but it was worth a try.
“Can I have drink?” The five-year-old soon asked. Already his son’s naiveté was proving an antithesis to Brian’s need to talk serious. The boy didn’t know, though. He couldn’t know.
“Sure. We have juice, coke, and water.” Jackie sundered into the kitchen area.
Wilson followed her to take a look-see at what else he could get into. “Juice!”
“You guys want anything?”
“A coke. Thanks,” said Brian.
“Nothing for me,” Carol said.
“So what’s the game plan?” Jackie said in a low tone while fixing the drinks. She didn’t give Wilson a tour of things in the kitchen, which was odd for her.
“I’m sure as hell not going back to Josh’s place,” said Carol, also in a murmur. Brian saw the brunette had taken things seriously as well. She had a look of calm determination, possibly a little anger. He was glad she was on their team. “Hand me that flash drive, will you, Brian?”
“What about the firewall?” He pulled the drive out of his pocket that contained nanotech data once held on his hard drive, information copied from a similar drive Mike had given him.
“Do you really think it matters now? It’s our only lead.” Carol held out her hand with a level look.
“Yeah.” He tossed her the disc.
Jackie gave Wilson and Brian their drinks and went to the living room window to look out. “I had dreams all night that they would storm in and . . . you know . . . experiment on me or something.” With a shiver, she turned back and tried to cover her fear with a quick smile at Wilson, who had moved back to the living room floor and resumed his video game.
“I was thinking,” said Carol, tapping a few keys to access the disc on her computer. “Why don’t we see who else is doing nanotechnology research around here. I’m pretty sure they’d be interested in Doctor Kevill and Doctor Uhland’s little project.”
“Maybe. But would they even believe us?” said Jackie. She still stood guard by the window.
“Well, it’s a thought. What about it, Brian?”
Brian stared at Wilson, his mind vegging for a moment, at odds with their probing and his need to feel safe. “Sure. Or, hell, we could even leak a bit to the government. I’m sure they’re not sponsoring the project to the extent Doctor Kevill is going with it.”
“Umm,” said Carol, looking up at Brian. “Kinda risky. One. They may be sponsoring the whole thing, as crazy as that may sound. Two. Do you really want to get tied up with the government? Anonymous leaks to them, I’m sure, would make us less anonymous than we’d like to believe.”
Brian turned to stare at Carol’s computer. “Okay. Pull up the list of names, and do a search for Oklahoma again.” The noise of Wilson’s game soon had too many pings and pongs and cartoon sounds. “Wil, can you push down the volume on that thing? You remember how to do it.” Brian had snapped at his son, drawing a look from the girls.
Carol pulled up the names, with one other hit coming from their location, the University of Oklahoma. A Dr. Howard Romber, Department of Computing Science. His project wasn’t linked to the government, according the list.
“Bingo,” said Carol. “I’ve seen this guy. Young. Sharp-looking. And completely American.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” said Jackie.
“Oh. You know. Doctor Uhland. German. Dull. And secretive, too, as we’ve found.” She spat out the words concerning her ex-lover.
“You’re still pissed at him, Carol. Come on.” “Whatever.”
“Romber sounds German to me,” said Brian. “Hit the OU homepage and see what we can find on this guy. Might just be we can pay him a visit tomorrow.”
“I doubt he’ll be around between semesters, Brian,” said Jackie. She had finally withdrawn from the window and joined the pair on the couch.
“Couldn’t hurt to try. I’ve got to do something here, for God’s sake! I don’t know when Doctor Kevill will try to get at me or even at Wilson again. Heck, you guys could very well be in danger, too!” Brian’s voice rose, getting his son’s attention.
“All right. All right, fly guy,” said Jackie with a look of worry. “Sounds like a good idea.”
Carol had accessed the Computing Science page and was looking at Dr. Romber’s bio.
“Yeah. Born and bred in the USA,” Carol said, scrolling through the information. “Ohio. Attended the University of Ohio before his post-graduate work at Stanford. Definitely into new-breed computing, including quantum computing.”
“What’s that?” said Jackie.
“What’s his link say on the disc’s list?” asked Brian. Wilson grunted across the room and let out a yell.
“Got it, Dad. Got it!” 
“That’s good,” said Brian without taking his eyes off Carol’s computer screen. The boy soon realized he wasn’t going to get much more attention than that, so he refocused on the game, its sounds now much more palatable to Brian’s concentration.
Carol continued reading on Romber. “His projects center more around quantum physics and its applications to computer technology.”
“Quantum physics?” Jackie said. “How is that close to nanotechnology?”
“Well,” said Carol, who now had pulled up Dr. Uhland’s bio on her computer. “Both fields are studies in the very small. I’m not sure, but I think nanotechnology is more of a manipulation of things at a molecular level, moving around single atoms and such. Quantum physics is . . . well . . . is just weird.”
“Weird?” Brian and Jackie said in unison, looking at each other.
“I’m no expert, but instead of trying to build things from very small components, quantum physics more studies our world at its most basic forms—in electrons and quarks and stuff. What makes up things on a very tiny, tiny level.”
“So what makes that so weird?” Brian pushed further.
“Physicists have discovered that, in the realm of the very small, not everything acts like we would expect.”
“Like?” pressed Jackie.
“Like particles also being waves. Or particles being in two places at the same time. Or traveling distances faster than the speed of light.”
“Huh?” Jackie came in again. She had lost some of her worried look, now replaced by curiosity. “Particles of what? Pieces of things?”
“Yeah. Pretty much,” replied Carol. “The very smallest things we can measure. At that level, they act in bizarre ways, not like you would expect from living and seeing things happen in our larger world.”
“I don’t know,” said Brian. “Things are pretty weird out in our world, too, right now.” He paused, eyebrows furrowed, lips pressed tight. “But how can quantum physics relate to computers, Carol?”
“Not sure, really. I didn’t get that far in my major there.” She gave him weak smile.
“Well, I bet Doctor Romber has a few ideas,” he said. “I’ll put Wil in school tomorrow, and we can all ride together to see the guy. You guys free sometime in the morning?”
The mentioning of his name drew Wilson’s attention. He dropped his video and climbed onto his dad’s lap. “What are you guys doing?”
“We’re talking adult stuff, Wil,” Brian cautioned. “You be quiet for a little longer, okay?” Wilson frowned and started his own tour of Jackie’s apartment.
Jackie got up to show Wilson her movie collection, turning back toward the couch. “Carol is lucky enough not to work, huh, Carol? Me, I have to be at the gym around noon. You think we can do it before then?”
“Of course,” said Brian. He looked again at the computer, taking in Dr. Uhland’s bio from the screen.
He looked at Carol, her face drawn tight. “The guy’s a power creep, Carol,” he said. “And he needs to go down, right?”
She looked up at him and again at Josh’s photo on the computer screen.
“Listen to the guy, Carol,” Jackie said from across the room. Wilson was arranging her DVDs on the floor and talking to himself about the pictures on each case. “You want to get back at the jerk. Now’s a prime opportunity.”
Carol still didn’t reply, but her friends could tell by the clinched jaw and squinted eyes that she definitely still had some feelings about the man. And some not-so-happy thoughts to go along with them, too, Brian thought. He still wondered what her little “virus” had really done to their computers when they had broken into the lab the other night.
She switched the computer back to Dr. Romber’s information.“Okay. Room 217 in Computer Science. He probably won’t be there, but what the hell.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Jackie. “Meet here at, say, ten o’clock in the morning?”
“Right,” said Brian, brushing back his hair. He looked down at Wilson, who still moved DVDs around, now trying to stack them into a house. “Jackie, you mind watching Wil for a few hours? I’m going to try and talk to Mike.”
The two girls shot Brian a startled look. “You sure that’s such a good idea, Bri? I mean, he might have that Daka guy over or even Doctor Kevill for all we know. What do you say we all go together to be safe?”
Brian thought about the proposal. “No, Jackie. I have to see this guy on my own. Maybe I can talk some sense into him or at least get some information about what’s infecting his head. I’ll be okay.”
Jackie bit her lip. “But didn’t you say as soon as Amber started talking, they zapped her with a shot of pain? Why wouldn’t the same happen to Mike?”
“I’m not sure it won’t. But I still have to try.”“We’d be happy to watch over Wilson,” Carol broke in, giving Jackie a look. “I’ll do some more research into quantum computing. You just be careful, okay?” She reached over and touched Brian on the arm.
“Sure.” He stood up and headed toward the door. “Wilson, you be a good boy. Jackie and Carol are going to watch you while I run an errand.”
“To see Mike?” Wilson asked.
“How did you know, guy?”
“I heard you.”
“Oh.” Brian shrugged his shoulders, thinking how smart his son really was, and quickly left Jackie’s apartment to confront his best friend, Mike Reynolds.
Mike’s bike was chained to a pole, leading Brian to believe his friend was home. The apartment complex itself wasn’t too far from Jackie’s, so Brian arrived there around one o’clock that afternoon. He was ready for a confrontation, ready to see what had happened to Mike after meeting his friend over a week ago at Sam’s. Then Mike had been scared, paranoid of Daka, who Brian had since figured out was the one following his friend. The trap must have been sprung soon after that, maybe the morning Mike had missed Kevill’s final exam, for ever since then he had been acting strange, avoiding his friends. Brian also remembered Mike’s showing up to get the disc from him the day before and how strange he had acted.
“That had to be from Kevill’s prompting,” he whispered to himself while walking toward Mike’s apartment. “What the hell is inside your head, Mike? A computer?”
Looking around, he banged on the white-painted door.
“Mike! It’s Brian. Come on, man, open up!”
Brian took a step back, just in case. He didn’t want to be surprised. He looked over his shoulder, too, in case the Daka person was lurking in the parking lot, ready to pounce. Now he knew what Mike must have been feeling that morning at Sam’s.
A noise behind the door.
“Mike, open up! I just want to talk. That’s all!” He pounded again a few times.
“Brian, go away. I don’t feel like talking right now.” The voice was a grumble, barely understandable.
“What’s going on with you, man?” Brian pushed on the door with his right hand in case Mike had unlocked it. He lowered his voice and got closer. “We know about Doctor Kevill, Mike. We know about the project. We’re your friends, don’t you see?”
Silence and the door suddenly swung open, revealing a haggard looking Mike Reynolds, someone quite different than the person who had shown up at his door a little over twenty-four hours earlier. His hair was messed up, his eyes squinting like they were not used to the outside light. He wore only boxers and a t-shirt. Brian noticed a food stain on the front of the shirt, too, making him cringe a little inside.
Brian practically fell into the apartment with the quick release of the door. “Mike! I just wanted to check how you were doing, that’s all.”
Mike wiped his eyes and looked past Brian for other people. “Come in,” he mumbled.
Mike got out of the way, and Brian entered the apartment cautiously, wary of a trap. No one jumped at him out of the darkness, though. He only saw a messy apartment, with clothes strewn everywhere, drink cups and pizza boxes on the floor and a small kitchen table to his right as he entered. Mike’s few plants looked dead, and the way his apartment was kept so dark, with only outside light coming in, spooked Brian somewhat. Mike may have been a little different in his exterior, but Brian had always known him to be full of energy, up at Montor often on weekends or out and about with lady friends when not studying or researching. He also had always kept up his appearance.
“Did I wake you?”
Mike shut the door, leaving the apartment in low light from one of the curtained windows. He switched on a lava lamp by his living room sofa.
“Ah, yeah,” he said, running fingers through his red hair. He looked groggy, only half awake. “What do you want, Brian?”
“You know what I want, guy. Tell me what happened. I’ve already heard Amber’s story. Now, I want to hear it from you.”
“What do you mean?” Mike turned away and fell into his racked-up couch, disrupting a few empty cola cans in the process.Brian stood over him, hands on his hips. “What do I mean? Come on! Forget the stupid act, Mike. We’re concerned about you, Jackie and I. Jackie said you blew her off earlier when she called. And, hell, look at this place! It’s a pit. What? Are you sleeping all the time?”
“I’ve been sleeping a lot, yeah.” Brian noticed in more light that his friend’s eyes were very bloodshot. Mike put his face in his hands. “It’s the dreams. There’re so damn real!” “Dreams? Are the computers in your head causing you to trip?”
Mike squeezed the sides of his head with his hands, grimacing and letting out a deep groan. 
“You don’t understand, Brian. You’re not one of us.”
That statement in itself sent shivers down Brian’s spine.
“Us? You mean you and Amber and Doctor Kevill?”
“You’re not one with the Torus. You haven’t seen what I have seen. If you had, you wouldn’t be concerned. I’m fine. Just a little tired, that’s all.”
To Brian, his friend was talking gibberish. He leaned over and took hold of his friend’s shoulders, shaking him. “What’s the bastard done to you, Mike? Tell me!”
Mike looked up and smiled like Brian was only a boy and didn’t understand.
“You heard it from Amber. You know the story. So leave me alone.” He shook himself free of Brian’s grasp and lay down in a fetal position on the couch. “Come back later after Kevill has shone you the light,” he said dismissively.
Brian grew more and more furious. What was the big secret here? Mike has never treated me like this!
“Not much light going on in here, Mike,” he said, sitting on the floor beside his friend.
“Hah! A light inside, my friend. A beautiful, wonderful light. I dream about it all day. I know more. I am more. Go to him. See what I see! Hah, hah, hah!”
Brian didn’t know whether to leave then or hit his friend in the face to try and stir some sense into him. “I don’t know what you’re going through, Mike, but I don’t like what I see. Maybe you can see more and know more because of a crazy implant Doctor Kevill gave you, but did you ask for it? Huh? Did you? Did you go to Kevill and say, ‘Make me part computer, please.’?”
Mike ignored the assault. From his position, he started openly fingering the figure-eight pendant around his neck, mumbling under his breath.
Brian had had enough. He grabbed the necklace from Mike’s hands and tore it from his friend’s neck.
“No!” Mike yelled, moving out of the fetal stance more quickly than Brian would have thought. “Give it back!”
“I’ll give it back only if you tell me what’s going on!” said Brian. He stuffed the pendant in his jeans pocket.
Mike started for him but stopped after getting up off the couch, his legs evidently weak.
“Oh, dizzy,” he said, and fell back down. He looked up at his friend with half-shut eyes. “What do want to know, Brian? They’ll hurt me if I tell you anything, you know.”
“Yeah, I know, but I have to find out.” Brian took a step back from Mike and fired his first question. “What did Doctor Kevill do to get you like . . . like this?” He gestured toward Mike’s inert body.
“Wasn’t Kevill actually but his thug, Daka.” Mike grunted.
Brian glanced back at the door as if mentioning the man’s name would make him appear. “Right. We know about Daka. What did he do, Mike?”
Mike looked up at Brian, a bit of fear now in his eyes.
“You know about him following me?”
“Uh, huh.”
“Well, I was leaving that morning for Kevill’s final when I ran into Daka here in the parking lot. He said hello, but, before I could run away, he sprayed something in my face.”
“Sprayed? Like what?”
“Hell if I know, but it stung my eyes. And very quickly I started to get blurred vision, my body going all limp. Daka then walked me back up here to lie down. The next thing I knew, it was much later in the day. I had missed the test and felt very weird.” 
“My head felt heavy. My stomach was queasy. My whole body felt out of sorts. But that wasn’t the weirdest part. As I woke, I soon noticed that necklace on me. And, within minutes, a voice came from the necklace . . . or was it from inside my head? Anyway, it was Kevill instructing me to drive to his lab as soon as I was able.” Mike had left out the part about his uncanny dreams and finding the necklace first in a box labeled “FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN THE TORUS” then putting it around his neck himself.
“The lab out on Highway Nine, right?”
“That’s the one.”
“What did Doctor Kevill tell you once you got there?”
“He explained things . . . things, I guess, I already knew somehow.” Mike got up from the couch and took a step toward Brian, his gaunt-looking face harboring very active, staring eyes. “Look, Brian. There’s really nothing you can do to stop him, you know. It’s really for the best.”
“What is? Spraying stuff in people’s faces to make their minds different? I’d hardly call that for the best, Mike. What about your schooling, your research? Did you really want to be a subject of an experiment?”
“Huh? Well, I didn’t think so. But Kevill has changed my mind in more ways than one, Brian.” He held out his hand. “Come on. Give me back the necklace. It’s not doing you any good. Attuned to my special brain waves, don’t you know?”
“No deal, Mike. Tell me . . . where’s Amber? Where’s Doctor Kevill got her hidden?”
“Hidden?” He lowered his outstretched arm with a thump against his thigh. “Hell if I know. I have trouble enough keeping up with my own thoughts. Why would I tell you anyway? So you could poke more into our business and mess things up?”
Brian took a deep breath. “If that’s the way you want it. Fine, Mike. Fine.” He started to take the necklace out of his pocket. “One more thing, though, before I go.”
“Do all of Kevill’s brain experiments turn people bad?”
With that, he pretended to throw Mike’s necklace at him, but instead, Brian lowered his hand with the necklace in it, balled it up into a fist, and let Mike have a fast couple of jabs into an open jaw. His friend, or ex-friend, staggered back, allowing Brian to make a dash for the door, open it, and run toward his car.
Though acting drugged not five minutes earlier, Mike recovered quickly. He was only a few meters behind by the time Brian had made it to his car door. Brian opened the door, got in, and tried to close it to get away, but Mike seized the door with both hands before Brian could fully pull it shut.
“Hand it over, Brian!”
“Forget it, Mike!” Brian turned in his seat and pushed on the half-open door with both legs, which sent Mike sprawling into the parking lot beside the car. Then Brian closed and locked his door before turning on the car and speeding off.
Mike, who had gotten back up, banged himself against the driver’s side of the car as Brian sped away. “You won’t get away with this, you fuck! We’ll get you!”
But Brian’s car made it to safety, leaving its driver confused and alarmed at his friend’s actions. Too many thoughts. He had never hit a guy, much less a friend.
What has gotten into him? It’s simply not Mike. It’s not him. I’ve got to get the old Mike to come back.
Brian looked at the pendant necklace he had thrown in the passenger seat during his quick escape. Hopefully, this necklace holds the key. Maybe it can lead me to Amber. Maybe it can help end this madness once and for all.

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