The Torus Project

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

Chapter 22 (v.1)

Submitted: February 12, 2011

Reads: 56

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Submitted: February 12, 2011



Chapter 22
1:56 p.m., Sunday
Brian made it back to Jackie’s apartment and found his son and his two friends safe and sound watching a game show on TV. He had seen it before. Two contestants fought it out in a virtual world of mazes, obstacle courses, and riddles, all from the safety of padded rooms, their senses linked to a single computer, their bodies gone, and their inner worlds projected for the world to see. Outside in, Brian thought before being greeted, or inside out? What’s all this technology doing to us, anyway?
“So?” Jackie pounced on him before Brian could get halfway through the door.
Brian looked away from the TV and sighed. “The guy’s a mess, Jack. I mean he looked terrible, changed from yesterday, like he had gotten out of that place for days.”
“So you got in at least! What did you talk about?”Brian filled them in on his frustrating conversation with Mike. “I don’t know what to say. He sounds deluded, brainwashed. I couldn’t get through to him at all, so I finally had had enough and got this.”
He produced the necklace from his jeans pocket, the silver figure-eight pendant spinning delicately in the light. The display got Carol’s attention, for she hopped up off the couch and placed her hand up to take the weight off the jewelry, looking closely at it.
“So this is what all the commotion is about, eh?” she said in a whisper.
“I guess,” countered Brian.
Jackie pushed the lightweight pendant into a swing. “What the heck is it? I mean why the number eight, which, really, doesn’t even look like an eight?”
“Interesting. Like the mathematical symbol for infinity . . . Do you mind?” And Carol took the pendant fully into her own hands. “So smooth . . . I wonder if they have anything packed inside?”Jackie stepped back. “Brian, that could be a bomb for all we know!”
“Oh, I doubt it, Jackie. Why would Mike have a bomb around his neck?”
“It could well be a listening device, though,” said Carol, who nodded her head knowingly at her friends.
“What is it, Dad?” Wilson had had enough of the television show and decided to join in the action.
Brian, now aware that Kevill or someone else could actually be listening in, grew instinctively protective of his son.
“Oh, just a necklace I got from a friend.”
“From Mike?” Wilson said and reached up to take a look.
“Yes, from Mike. Don’t touch! It’s very . . . very breakable.”
“I want to look!”
“See,” his dad said, lowering the pendant down for his son to see for few seconds before quickly raising it out of reach again.
“I know that!”
“Wh . . . what do you mean?” Without thinking, Brian pushed the pendant down into his jeans pocket again. “How do you know it?” So much had happened, he had forgotten Wilson seeing Ms. Baker a few nights past.
“Missus Baker. She had one.” Wilson smiled and picked his nose, knowing he was now the center of attention. “She told me a story about it, too!”
“A story?” Jackie reached down and placed her hand on Wilson’s small shoulder. “She told you something about that necklace?”
“Did she give you anything, Wil? Or make you drink something?” Brian’s hand quickly took Jackie’s place, his shaking Wilson some.
“Ah, no. She just told me a bedtime story. Something about a toe or something. With animals that talked!” The three adults exchanged nervous glances. “Can I see it, Dad? Can I? I want to see if I can use it to talk to the animals!” 
“Not now, Wil. In fact, I think we’ll just place this over on Jackie’s kitchen counter for a little while.” He raised his eyebrows as if to say to get it out of earshot.
Without the device nearby, the trio promised again to meet up at Jackie’s place the next morning in order to seek out Dr. Romber and some possible answers to what might be going on. “And bring you know what,” said Carol, pointing to the pendant in Brian’s pocket after he had fetched it again and he and Wilson were leaving.
“That might just give us some good insight into things.”
The rest of that day came with no more fanfare for Brian. He and Wilson did head to McDonald’s as promised for a late lunch after visiting Jackie and Carol. And, once they got home, Brian was careful to place the mysterious necklace in a safe place in his closet, far above the reach of his inquisitive son. That night, they played Candy Land and some video games together. And, to Brian’s relief, he actually forgot about all the stuff that had been going on, at least for a minute or two at a time. 
His mother made her weekly call to Brian that evening as well, and they talked for a good thirty minutes. Brian, though, could hardly tell her about Amber or his renegade psychology professor or his lost friend Mike or a possible infected babysitter. No. He kept things simple and really listened to his mom more than usual. His father had hurt his back while fixing the tractor on the farm. The hometown basketball team had gone to state but lost. His aunt Mellie had gotten back from a trip to the East Coast to visit relatives of her husband. 
The usual stuff, which seemed so out of place for Brian as he struggled to make sense of things on his end. He knew his family back home had little conception of nanotechnology and hardly understood their son’s desire to study psychology for that matter. “Why delve into such stuff?” was the tacit message he often received from his parents. “Why not move back home and help your father out on the farm?” But things had changed for Brian. He knew he wouldn’t be happy there. Sure. Wilson would probably like to see his grandparents more often.  He did in fact plan to take him up there after the summer session and before his son started kindergarten. But, with Rebecca’s death and his growing need to “figure stuff out” (through his studies at least), Brian knew he was in the right place. Sort of.
Of course, he had never dreamed as a Nebraska farm boy that he would be caught up in some kind of government secret plot that involved controlling people’s minds. He never thought that after loosing Rebecca would he have such strong feelings for another woman either. The last sight of Amber in pain continually ricocheted in his mind and kept him up that Sunday night thinking of what to do to get her back and free from whatever plagued her. Brian wanted to tell his mom everything that had happened in recent weeks—he desired a listener, someone he knew wasn’t secretly infected, someone he loved and trusted—but, as was his way, he kept pretty quiet and to himself. Not his mom anymore or a memory of Rebecca. It seemed now that Brian wanted more to share with Amber. He desperately wanted to see her again, in one mental piece, and was afraid she would turn out like Mike, bewildered and isolated, if he didn’t act soon on her behalf.
Still in the nano-lab’s office, Kevill put down his cell after speaking with an irritated Mike Reynolds. He turned to Josh, who sat next to him at the table.
“So Mike’s pendant is outfitted to expunge its entities at our choosing?”
“Yes, Herr Doctor. I’ve started configuring them that way.” Josh was analyzing the specs on the office’s main holo readout, the figure-eight symbol of the Torus spinning in mid-air. He had wondered why Kevill didn’t order Mike to inoculate Brian that afternoon, but the professor had said something about “effect”.
“Quite beautiful, isn’t it?”
“No splinters. No sharp edges. Refined. Interconnected. Faultless.” Kevill reached up as if to stroke the projection. “Our new God, right, Josh? One with the Torus. No religion. No wars. No stupid ethnic bickering.”
“Excellent.” Josh, too, gazed at the spinning hologram. “We are making the perfect match.”
Kevill sighed and played with his ponytail. “What? Human to universe? Or human to machine?”
Josh looked at his superior and blinked a few times, his eyes a bit watery. “Both, I guess. Maybe the machine is the universe. Or maybe it’s our key to accessing greater potential.”
“Exactly, my German friend.” Kevill stood up and walked toward the main lab floor with its pillar of light. “Follow me.”
Both men came before the two-foot-think beam of light and stood with hands behind their backs. Josh noticed in their reflections in the glass that he stood at least six centimeters taller than his associate.
“The light. Don’t you see?”
“The light pulses, flows. Just like us. We are beings of light, of energy, connected to everything around us. But it’s this!” He pointed with his right index finger to the side of his head, his eyes bulging in delight. “This magnificent brain of ours—built through eons of evolution, capable of abstract thoughts and an ability to understand and organize the world around—that ironically makes us blind! We need a boost. These simple god concepts of organized religions only bind the mind to little myths and small ways. We need a new way!”
“Yes, sir. The Torus Project.”
“The Torus Project.” Kevill turned to Josh and gripped the German’s shoulder hard, his face suddenly dead serious. “And the project must not fail. We have the means of accomplishing what few others have done . . . to place a thought and watch it grow. That, my friend, is the beauty of our quest. Unlocking the potential you mentioned and keeping the keel steady, from the inside out.”
Kevill walked around the lab, looking at the light from all sides. He then examined the room’s four actuators, the machines that took the light’s minute particles—actually magnified from some 80,000 times the width of a human hair—and fashioned them into nanodevices of their choosing. Their shiny metallic exteriors curved out from the walls like rain gutters, though larger, with dozens of push buttons and lights running along the tops for programming purposes. Kevill ran his hand along one’s side. When he looked up again to address Josh, his face had grown decidedly more calm and soothing.
“Josh, get Mike another necklace and pendant. His first one seems to have lost its way.”
“Yes, sir,” Josh said with a crooked smile. “And when do you want to release the probes into the Brian boy? Listen for when his voice is loud and clear?”
“Yes, when the time is right. Let’s monitor him for a bit, listen to his machinations to foil our evil plot and get back his girlfriend. And when the time is right, I’m sure he’ll get a uniquely wonderful surprise.”

Amber awoke very groggy later that evening, drugged from Kevill’s need to keep her in place. At first, she didn’t remember where she was; only a soft light next to the bed on which she lay filtered through the room. Slowly, though, she remembered: talking to Brian and then the pain, capped off by the escort from Kevill’s stooge, Daka, who shot her with something as she exited his car in front of Kevill’s place once they got there. She didn’t remember getting into the pajamas that she now found herself in, nor getting into bed.
It was a nice bed, fluffy, with white pillowcases and sheets. Amber very much wanted to just lay back down to sleep, but the thought that she was now an unwilling prisoner of Kevill made her sit up, get dizzy, lay down, and sit up again. It took her a few times, but she finally sat and stood, taking in more of her surroundings. Yes, she had packed a few things, one of which was the pajamas she had on. She saw her small, paisley suitcase resting in one corner beside on open closet, which held her shirts and pants. She went to a large, ornate wood dresser along one wall across from the bed, opened it, and found her other things. On top of the dresser was a mirror. She looked at herself—the dark circles under her eyes, the messed up hair.
“You little bastard,” she whispered to herself in the mirror. Amber also noticed her necklace was gone, which alarmed her a little since she had grown so used to wearing it. 
She made use of the bedroom’s small bathroom. She then tried the main door. Locked. Of course.
“You won’t get away with this,” she directed another whisper toward her captor.
Amber reached out past the room, with her mind, in an attempt to contact Mike. He was really the only one she had ever talked with telepathically. That day at Sam’s. Only hours before that first experience, Mike had been inoculated like she remembered distinctly herself being inoculated not more than three months ago.
Mike? You there? Her mind felt sluggish, not the usual lightening speed she was able to think with the implants. Mike?
Amber sensed his presence among others, but pushed harder with her mind to try and make contact only with him. Finally, she seemed to have gotten his attention, though the effort had made her weak enough to have to sit back down on the bed.
Amber? That you? She heard a little laugh inside her head. I forgot we could do this.
Mike, listen. Kevill’s got me trapped at his house. I need to get out. Tell Brian where I am, will you?
A silence in the link and a weaker voice from Mike. No do, Amber. Kevill has you there for a purpose. We don’t need Brian barging into things. Plus, he’ll be one of us pretty soon anyway.
She couldn’t help but react physically to the statement. What do you mean? Is he inoculated?
No, not yet. But he will be. Another little laugh. Don’t worry, Amber. Things will be just fine. I bet Doctor Kevill just needed to run some tests on you, that’s all.
Amber realized Mike was totally in the throes of Kevill’s scheme. She couldn’t trust him to help her. So she played dumb and placated Mike’s evident enthusiasm. Yeah, you’re probably right. I haven’t been feeling so good lately. Must be something off with the nanites. I better get some rest.
Mike grunted in her head. Yeah, Amber, get some rest. Maybe Doctor Kevill will let me visit you sometime.
That’s great, she lied, halfway, at least. I’ll talk to you soon, Mike.
One with the Torus?
Yes, one with the Torus. Bye. And she ended the conversation.
Part of Amber felt so powerful in the thoughts Kevill’s nanites had brought her. Before meeting Brian and feeling for him, she had believed the Torus Project was everything. But now something had happened. She had broken through to a new level. 
Even in her drugged state, she still had wonderful abilities, computer abilities to process information. The knowledge she had! Thinking about it, she linked to the ‘Net and scanned the day’s headlines. War festered in the Middle East again. The U.S. was sending troops to another country. Riots occurred in New York. Sound, video, words. All so close! But it all didn’t seem near enough after sharing with Brian.
The man reminded her of her dad, she guessed. He was vulnerable and shy but very determined to do right with his son and his schooling, his life. Amber liked those qualities. And she knew that if Brian was inoculated, some or even most of those endearing personality traits might fade away, leaving her with a brainwashed man driven not by his own desires.
Her dad. He would never have done what Doctor Kevill did, she thought. So intent on his work. So kind and intelligent. She wondered what he would think of all this Torus crap.
Crap? Her head jerked at the realization. How come she was able to suddenly fight off the implants, the new ideas and thoughts meant to make the inoculated one of a unit, a new human, as Kevill had told her once, a new step in our evolution? Why do I now possess more ability to fight?
Thinking about this, she laid her head back on the pillow and was about to doze back to sleep when a soft knock came.
“Yes?” she said.
The locked turned, and Amber saw the silhouette of Kevill’s lover, Madalene, in the doorway. The Mexican beauty wore jeans and a tight-fitting blue shirt. 
“Thought you might like some water and a bite to eat,” Madalene said, entering the room and shutting the door behind her. “You feeling okay?”
The words sounded nice, but Amber knew she couldn’t trust the lady. “Oh, just great,” she mumbled, “after being drugged.” 
Anyone who chose to spend her time with Kevill couldn’t be that honest and forthright. Heck, Madalene could even be inoculated for all she knew, though Amber didn’t sense anything she had with Mike. Mike might very well have called Kevill to tell him about their recent contact, she thought.
Madalene carried a tray holding a glass of what looked to be water and a bowl of some kind of soup. Some crackers also were strewn about, with a napkin and a spoon there as well. The older lady, who wore sandals that clip-clopped across the tile floor as she approached, put the tray on the bedside table and straightened up, taking a step back, apparently wary that Amber might leap at her and try to escape.
“This is just temporary, my sweet,” Madalene said. “Lay back and relax. We won’t hurt you.”
Amber had met the Latin American woman about a year ago when she had first arrived on the scene from Mexico and a teaching post at the university. She and Kevill had evidently hooked up at a faculty get together sometime thereafter. A strange combination, Amber had always thought. Kevill, around fifty, was more thought-oriented, charismatic, sure of his purpose and goals. He didn’t seem the type to be stuck to one woman, especially this woman.
Madalene was dark and mysterious, a beauty in her early forties. From what Amber had gathered about her, she wasn’t very much into science and research like her mate. Instead, Amber had discovered a woman more attuned to her body and her spirit, if that made sense. In the time Amber had known her, Madalene had pretty much kept to herself, but her touch on Kevill’s life was unmistakable.
At first, Amber had been jealous. After her father’s death, Kevill had been a father figure to her, especially since he had taken her in, a friend of her father’s for most of her life. Then Madalene had arrived, erotic, sumptuous Madalene. That soon led to Amber distancing herself because she couldn’t bear seeing Kevill with the woman. Not that Madalene had even done anything mean to Amber, but she had never done anything really nice for Amber either. She had presented Amber with a few gifts, but, on the whole, Madalene’s demeanor was anything but warm to the younger woman. Amber had simply come to not trust her.
“Why do you do it?” Amber steamed at her visitor, catching Madalene by surprise.
“Do what, my dear?” She seemed a little nervous and stroked her long, shimmering hair without thinking about it. Dark, soft-edged lines around eyes and red lipstick augmented Madalene’s fear.
“Stay with him. What does he have to offer?”
Madalene huffed at the remark. “He has so much to offer, my dear. So much.”
“Like what?”
“Do we have to talk about such things now? Why don’t you eat and rest. I’ll check on you tomorrow.” She made to leave.
Amber didn’t like being given the usual blow off from Kevill’s lover. While drugged, weak, she was in less of a mood for the blasé attitude than normal.
“Power, isn’t it? He gives you a sense of power. Right?”
Madalene stared at her younger rival. “If you say so, dear.” She sat on the edge of the bed, staring hard at Amber. “Don’t mess things up. You hear me? He has worked very hard. Very hard! Look what he has given you, for goodness sake!”
“What? A computer for a brain but no way to feel?”
“I do not pretend to know what you mean, dear Amber. Please stay with us. We need you. He would never admit it, but he needs you. He loves you.”
Amber felt nervous in her stomach at the last remark. Kevill had been kind to her, had doted on her many times. Her education now had been due to his support, her apartment and necessities. She had felt his love even though he had never said so openly. The memories brought a little guilt to her recent actions against him.
“Then why does he keep me here against my will?”
“He also knows what is best for you, my dear.”
“Whatever,” Amber said, stifling a yawn. “Don’t you think that maybe some of what is going on is wrong?”
“Wrong, my dear?” Madalene feigned confusion.
“Yeah, like changing people’s brains, putting things inside them that they don’t even know are there!”
Madalene walked toward the door, making sure it was shut, and looked back at Amber. “I have thought at times about what Andy is doing. At times I think back to my own mother in Mexico, sitting there in our poor village, her hands caked with flour from making tortillas, and her telling me to be myself, to make my life as I would like it. My mother was so wise. And, yes, she had none of these . . . these things inside of her to help her know and think differently.
“But I also saw all of the pain in my country. The poverty. The crooked police. The drugs. And a religion that kept people in the dark about the world. I educated myself. I have made my life as I would like it. And I believe that Andy has a gift to give people more. We can all be more. And we can all work together!” Madalene had stirred herself with the words, but Amber wasn’t swayed much at all.
“Nice speech,” she said. “But I think Andy has gotten to you just like he has gotten to Doctor Uhland and that Daka guy. You may not have the nanites in you, but you sure act like you have been brainwashed.”
Madalene propelled herself off the bed and crossed her arms. She wiped a little tear from her eye, her mascara smearing. “You will learn,” she said, her voice now harsh compared to the softness it had while recalling her own past. “Learn, Amber. Or maybe you will never leave this place, no?”
And with that, Madalene stormed out of the room and loudly locked the door behind her.
Amber closed her eyes, and, though stirred up from the exchange, soon fell asleep, not thinking of guilt or if she had made the wrong decision. Rather, her dreams would soon be filled with a purpose, to see Brian again and to live her life as she would like . . . clean of control, clean of machines, a normal girl in a normal town, happy and free.

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