The Torus Project

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

Chapter 23 (v.1)

Submitted: February 12, 2011

Reads: 70

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Submitted: February 12, 2011



Chapter 23
10 a.m., Monday
Jackie and Carol were waiting for Brian when he arrived after letting Wilson off at daycare. Jackie was already dressed in workout attire, a spandex red and white suit, which, though he liked it, didn’t seem so appropriate to Brian in light of their mission. Carol was dressed more conservatively in jeans and a green blouse. Both were wearing makeup. Brian himself was in his typical jeans and a t-shirt, this one displaying a shoe company logo on the front.
“So Carol is going to drive since she’s the computer science person around here.”
“Ex-computer science, Jackie,” she said, eyes squinted.
“Whatever.” Jackie lowered her voice. “Did you bring it?”
“It?” said Brian. “Oh, yeah. Wrapped it up in foil.” He pulled the necklace out of his pocket.
“Oh, good thinking!”
“What about the disc?”
“Right. Got the nano site list as well.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
The trio loaded into Carol’s Honda and headed toward a fairly empty campus, being between semesters and all. Only the administration lot was full since it housed admissions; the other department buildings had specks of vehicles here and there.
“Pretty dead,” observed Brian.
“Hopefully, the building is even open,” said Carol, who swerved into the Computing Science lot. About ten cars were parked. The structure, which housed many technology majors and a score of full-time professors, according to Carol, looked like most buildings on campus, brick with clean, white trim. A solid, brass sign read “Department of Computing Science” over the main entryway.
Luckily, the building was open, probably for the department’s own administrative personnel if nothing else. So the friends entered and headed up some nearby stairs to the second floor, room 217.
“I like campus buildings between semesters,” said Jackie, bouncing up the stairs like she was already doing her workout. “No students but the lights are still on. Makes you forget how busy the place can be when everything is in full swing.”
Brian and Carol just exchanged smiles and followed Jackie to Romber’s office, the serious nature of their mission lost in friendship for the moment.
It wasn’t hard to find, especially with Romber’s name plaqued on it, with luck again gracing the team. The door was partially open.
“Let me,” Carol broke in front of Jackie, who was about to knock.
“Doctor Romber?” she said, tapping on the door.
“Yes, yes. Come in.” No German accent in that voice, thought Brian.
Carol pushed her way in and saw a small, clean room with university diplomas on the wall across from the entrance and a large desk off to one side. Romber was standing beside the desk and inserting what looked like small plastic cartridges the size of thin books into a bookcase. Tall, dark-haired, about forty-five, he turned to take in the visitors.
“Sorry to bother you, sir,” continued Carol, “but we’re students here at the university, and we have a question that you might be able to help us out with.”
Romber fitted a slender cartridge into its place on the bookcase and stroked a thick black moustache while he took a seat behind the desk. He had friendly eyes and a constant smirk on his face like he knew secrets others didn’t. Carol could make out a holo-device, compact, streamlined, on the desk’s return, along with a notebook computer open on top of the desk. Romber shut it and asked, “What can I do for you folks?”
“My name is Carol . . . These are my friends Jackie Smithers and Brian Minor.”
“Please to meet you.” Romber gestured to a few gray office chairs in front of his desk. “Computing science majors? I don’t recall seeing you around.”
Carol looked down at her feet and back up at Romber. “Well, I use to be. We’re . . . ah . . . actually all psychology majors, but we’ve run across something interesting that we thought you might be able to help out with.”
“Okaaay,” said Romber. He gestured again at the seats. “Sit down, ladies. Sorry I don’t have chairs for everyone.”
Carol and Jackie sat down, with Brian standing awkwardly between them. He fingered the foil-covered necklace in his pocket with anticipation.
“What have you got?” the professor said.
Carol continued the talking. “Do you know Professor Uhland?”
“Sure. One of our top teachers and researchers. Why?” The smirk was replaced by a slight frown, but only for a moment.
“Well,” Carol looked up at Brian and put out her hand. “A friend of ours accidentally got a list of nanotechnology researchers, and both you and Doctor Uhland were listed from this university.”
Romber’s face turned less than friendly; his brows furrowed. He leaned forward in his chair. “What list?”
“Brian?” Carol said. And Brian got out the finger-sized disc with the list on it and handed it over to Carol, who gave it to Romber. “It’s on there. Take a look.”
Romber took the disc, examined it, and looked over his three guests as if looking at them for the first time. “What’s this all about guys? Yes, Doctor Uhland and I both do research in nanotechnology and computer applications. It’s a big part of the university’s nanotechnology initiative . . . You’re not with the paper, are you?”
“Oh . . . no . . . no, sir,” Brian stuttered.
He fired his notebook back up and inserted the disc. The students noticed him scanning its contents on his screen, scrolling through what they knew to be hundreds of research names from around the world. He looked up at them periodically, and after a few minutes took the disc out again.
“I’m not sure you guys should have this,” he said after a lengthy pause. “How did you say your friend got a hold of it again?”
Carol looked at Brian, who swallowed hard thinking of Mike and the trouble that same information had gotten his friend into.
“My friend was doing research at Montor Hall, sir, on a computer linked to the mainframe. Somehow, this information,” Brian pointed to the disc still in Romber’s hand, “became entangled in my friend’s project. He downloaded it to a disc, and there you have it.”
“And your friend didn’t report this to his superiors over there?” Brian could tell Romber was annoyed at having three unknown students barge into office with information about his research. 
“Well, they somehow knew about it soon afterward, so he got into trouble, mainly for plugging in information for the graduate student who was in charge. He kept the list, though.”
“Okay, fine. I don’t know how the heck that happened, but thanks for bringing it out to me. Is that all?”
The three friends exchanged glances again.
“Hardly, sir,” said Brian, who now seemed the front man of the group.
“Hardly? Well, this list,” he handed the disc back to Brian, “though exhaustive and very interesting, is hardly top-secret stuff. I know of Doctor Uhland’s connection to the government. It’s not odd at all now-a-days for government-sponsored projects in computing science. Or psychology, for that matter, since it looks like Uhland has teamed up with one of your professors over there.”
“Well, sir, it’s just that.” Brian looked at the disc as if it were an embodiment of evil in his hands. He must not have seen Kevill’s project name, Brian thought, Project Master. “Their project . . . you see . . . we’ve found out that it’s not really . . . ethical. Doctor Uhland and Doctor Kevill are conducting experiments that I don’t think they are supposed to be doing.” Brian looked behind his shoulder at the office’s open door. “Do you mind if I close it?”
Romber now looked intrigued, his casual, friendly eyes zeroed in on the students as if they had become a computer program that was displaying intelligence of its own. “Sure. Now tell me. How do you know what Doctor Uhland and his associate are researching? This disc doesn’t really go into a lot of detail.”
“It’s kind of a long story,” Brian pushed on, despite the small setback, “but, basically, we believe they are implanting nanotechnology devices into people’s heads and controlling them against their will.” Brian took another deep breath, knowing full well that this point in the conversation could make or break them.
Romber bit on his tongue for a moment and squeezed his eyes. He stood up and walked over to his office’s single window that looked into the middle of the campus.
“Huh, sir?”
“Why do you think this?” His voiced raised. The older man turned and faced the trio, his face sullen.
“Our friend who got the information on the disc, he has changed,” broke in Carol. “He was followed by someone who works with Doctor Uhland and Doctor Kevill, and now he is sick, different.”
“That doesn’t sound like much evidence, folks,” said Romber.
“And another friend of mine,” said Brian. “She was over at my apartment and told me about the project. She told me how Doctor Kevill is the mastermind, how he and Doctor Uhland are making people into part machine. She told me, that is, before they started hurting her from the inside with some kind of mind control, I guess through the nanodevices in her head. She had to run away due to the pain!”
Romber sat on the front edge of his desk, wringing his strong, well-manicured hands, and looked at each student in turn.
“What you say sounds very far-fetched. First, how do I know you’re real students? Second, what proof, other than this disc, do you have that all this stuff took place or is taking place? Third, why come to me? Huh?” The rundown sounded harsh to Brian, but he knew this would have to be a hard sell.
“We’d be happy to show you our I.D. cards, sir,” said Jackie nervously.
Carol punched Brian on the shoulder. “Show him the necklace.”
Romber now turned his attention to Brian, who withdrew a wad of tin foil from his front pocket. “We have to warn you, sir. We think this may have some kind of listening device in it. That’s why I covered it in foil, to maybe block any . . . transmissions.” With shaky fingers, he unwrapped the pendant necklace and dangled it front of Romber, who, like Carol had done when Brian first showed it to his friends, gingerly took the silver pendant in his outstretched hand and examined it carefully.
“I’ve seen this before,” the professor whispered.
Brian felt a tingle in his stomach, his body’s way of warning with adrenaline pumping inside. Oh, shit! What if Doctor Romber is already infected! What if he’s one of them!
Brian looked at Romber’s neck but saw nothing, though the man wore a buttoned short-sleeved shirt, which could have easily hid a necklace and pendant. He snatched the pendant back from Romber’s hand. 
“What do you mean?”
Romber, who had looked like he was in a trance, blinked and stared at Brian in surprise.
“You said you’ve seen this before. Where? Around someone’s neck?” Brian’s voice was biting, abrasive.
“No, no. The figure itself. I’ve seen it somewhere before. Do you mind showing it to me once more?” Romber twitched his moustache with an absent-minded flick of a finger.
Brian again dangled the necklace in front of Romber’s face. The professor got behind his desk and approached the bookcase he had been beside when the students first entered. He pointed his finger at the shelf, which, to the students, didn’t hold any books at all but rather some memorabilia (a black and white elephant figurine, a miniature globe, and what looked to be a fragile origami of a large bird of some kind) and a series of dark plastic cases, at least fifty of them, about ten centimeters high and only about two centimeters thick. Romber’s finger scanned these plastic cartridges, which looked identical except for tiny numbers etched in gold on their spines, until he hit upon something, stopped, and let out an “Ah, hah!”
Romber pulled one of the plastic cartridges from the shelf. “These are my little experiments,” he said, carefully placing the cartridge down on the desk in front of the students. One side of the cartridge was solid black, but the other held an LCD screen not unlike a handheld computer. Brian, Jackie, and Carol could see only a blank screen, though.
“I set up an array on these computers, not unlike a biologist sets up a virus or a colony of bacteria to see how microorganisms grow in a petri dish. My organisms, though, are computer-based. You see, my research, as you have found out from that list of yours, deals with constructing quantum computers, computers with few wires, per say, but rather powered by qubits, or individual quantum bits of data.”
Romber looked from his cartridge to the students.
“Look.” He pressed a single button on the cartridge’s front, and the LCD screen came to life. “I entered a mathematical problem to be solved by this computer. But, different than a normal computer that runs off only zeros and ones, quantum computers with qubits can perform simultaneous computations, greatly accelerating the speed and greatly increasing the power of computing tasks.
“This particular experiment involved a Torus, which is a pretty straightforward mathematical geometry about how the universe might look like.”
“Hey! That’s what Mike said!” Brian spouted.
“What?” said Jackie, half-way jumping out of her seat.
“When I was at his place yesterday, after I stole this necklace, he said, ‘You’re not one with the Torus’ or something like that.
“Hmm,” said Romber. “Strange. Anyway, this experiment, like most of my quantum experiments, tend to erode over time. That’s what we’re working on . . . a viable way to preserve and manage quantum computing over time. 
“But,” he continued, “I have been able to capture individual sequences of results and freeze them in graphical context. And, when I froze this computation a while back, I found a picture pretty close to your necklace design there.”
He pushed the button several times, each time a picture popping up on the screen. Brian noticed a colorful donut many times and, when Romber stopped, he saw that donut stretched out some and twisted, just like the pendant’s twisted figure-eight pattern. He looked at the pendant in his hand and at the picture on the screen. The similarity was pretty close, too close, Brian thought, to be a coincidence.
“You say this is a mathematical representation of the universe?” he asked Romber, wrapping the necklace again in its foil package.
“Yes. Been around awhile actually. But, say, you take a rectangular piece of paper and you roll the corners of the top side onto the corners of the bottom side. A tube, right? Next, you fit the ends of that tube into a circle and create a big donut, or a Torus.
“What’s so interesting about the Torus and its variations is that every point on its surface is directly connected to every other point.” He cycled back to the original fat donut picture on the palm computer cartridge. “You travel in what seems to be a straight line in two-dimensions, but, in fact, you circle back through space confined to the dimensions of the three-dimensional Torus.”
“You mean, like a wormhole or something?” said Carol.
“Well, that’s a good analogy. A wormhole represents traveling instantaneously from one point to another in space, the points seemingly light years away from each other—like the corners of a rectangle—at least to a third-person viewer in a traditional view of how the universe is like.
“But, if the universe were shaped like a Torus, such travel would be possible since, by folding space like that piece of rectangular paper, points at first far apart now overlap.”
“Cool,” said Jackie. “I think.”
“Very cool. The figure-eight pattern, as my computer here found out, seems a natural progression as you twist a Torus upon itself. Interesting. Maybe four-dimensional. Like a hypersphere.” Romber thought in silence for a few seconds.
“You say this pendant is connected to Uhland and Kevill’s project?” he said, directing his question mainly at Brian.
“Yeah. Everyone they infect gets one.”
“What do you mean ‘infect’, exactly? How is it done?”
“We don’t know,” said Brian, again covering the pendant in foil. “One of them told me, though, that nanodevices were implanted in her head and that now she was part machine.”
Romber turned off his project cartridge and raised his hands. “I’m sorry, guys, but it sounds all too hard to believe. I guess if the government was in on it, then mind control would be a very profitable and powerful weapon, but why would they be infecting your friends? You’d think they would carry out controlled tests in the lab first.”
“We don’t know, Doctor Romber, but we’re scared,” said Jackie. “We don’t want to get caught up with the government or anything, but what they’re doing is just wrong.”
Romber again paused and messed with his moustache as he thought. “If you’re right, young lady, I would have to agree. But I must have more proof if I’m to believe all of this. Interesting thought material but a necklace and some stories aren’t enough. I’m sorry.”
“Would you be able analyze this?” broke in Brian, shoving forward his mass of foil, pressing it against Romber’s hand. “I mean, can you see what’s inside?”
“Brian, we don’t want to get Doctor Romber too involved!” said Jackie. “I still think the thing might be a bomb.”
“Well, you would have to leave it for a few days. Heck, I work with the world of the very small. If the pendant is hiding something, I bet I could find out. But if I find only a silver pendant, guys, that’s it. That’s all I can do. Without more proof, your story is just an interesting experiment in ideas.”
“That’s all we ask,” said Brian. He handed over the foil and the necklace to Romber. “If you find anything, call me. Here’s my number.” He scratched out his cell number from Romber’s nice gold pen set and pushed the paper across the desk.
“All right. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Doctor Romber.” And Brian led his detective team out of the professor’s office.
Once downstairs, Jackie asked, “So what do you think?”
“Seems like nice guy,” said Brian.
“But is he really going to help us?”

“I hope so. For everyone’s sakes, I surely hope so.”

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