The Torus Project

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

Chapter 28 (v.1)

Submitted: February 15, 2011

Reads: 50

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Submitted: February 15, 2011

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Chapter 28
5:15 a.m., Tuesday
The night was a restless one for Brian. Being crammed into Jackie’s one-bedroom apartment didn’t produce any real discomfort; he had slept in worse situations during his military days, cots crammed together in a room or bags piled on rough terrain during training exercises. Wilson was a little wired but soon got tired after a lengthy pillow fight with him and Jackie and fell asleep on the couch. No. Brian was restless because he knew the war had not been won that night. Wilson, Amber, his best friend Jackie . . . all were safe and secure. And he felt Carol, who slept in her own apartment, was okay since Kevill had shown little interest in the ex-computing science major. Yet. But freeing Amber from Kevill’s clutches, Brian knew, was only a short-term victory.
The professor would be back. All night, Brian tossed in the knowledge that Kevill could turn up the heat inside Amber’s head and produce agony. The knowledge gave him a feeling of powerlessness he didn’t like and made him continually check on Amber’s sleeping form beside him next to the front door.
Every little noise, too, drew Brian’s intense attention. Was Daka coming back for her? Did Kevill have some other person infected enough to break in and try to infect everyone there? Brian’s antennae were up, and his mind rolled with plans to end this mess.
Again, his first thought was just to pack up and drive away as an escape from Kevill’s madness. He had Wilson and Amber. What could Kevill do—track them across the country?
But that idea quickly vanished when Brian remembered his friends Mike and Ms. Baker and all the others in his campus community that were in danger of becoming a part of Kevill’s experiment. If he left, who would try to stop the professor? Who knew the information and had experienced first-hand the things that gave him, still free from Kevill’s mind control, the ability to act?
No one. And that was just the ticket. Brian, in his tossing and turning that night, grew more and more sure that no one else but him was equipped to put a stop to Kevill’s plans. Not that he didn’t feel Jackie or Carol or maybe even Dr. Romber could help. But, for some reason, he and Kevill were locked in this battle. He, not his friends, had become the psychologist’s nemesis. And, so, he must finish what God had thrown in his path.
God? Brian’s sleepy mind turned its attention to the word and the concept. He had gone to church growing up on that Nebraska farm. He had thanked God when Wilson was born, cursed at God when Rebecca had died. Since then, his beliefs had been muddled about God. Maybe he had become more of a skeptic, feeling that his studies in psychology had propelled him to a new plateau where God could be analyzed as part of human behavior, just like anything else.
There, in the dark, after a long night of breaking windows, of fighting and rescuing, Brian couldn’t help but want—like a little boy looking up at those stars on a moonless night in the cornfield—to know God, to feel the beauty and mystery of the world. Maybe he had pushed away his feelings in trade for the knowledge of a student, those feelings representing pain, those feelings a reminder of losing someone he had loved. Now, though, he wanted a feeling of peace.
God? He had to admit his studies into the Torus, a fourth dimension, and quantum physics had given Brian a much expanded view of the universe. More than ever before Brian felt a connection to things about him; he sensed a purpose to his life that he didn’t want to let go. Such a purpose, he knew, had been a long time in coming, and it still wasn’t complete. God or not, Brian could only be free (and also those around him who had already fallen to an infected mind) if Dr. Kevill no longer walked around with impunity.
The night drained Brian with the worries it brought, but, strangely, once he awoke, a greater feeling of purpose coursed through him. As dawn filtered in the apartment’s living room window, he looked over at Amber sleeping next to him on a sleeping bag, her face, now at least, relaxed. He looked at Wilson’s small body on the couch, arms tucked underneath as he slept on his stomach. Brian knew what he wanted. The night had settled it, and now he felt God had given him the determination to see things through.
At about seven o’clock, the group fully stirred awake, with Jackie emerging from her bedroom to fix them some cereal and toast. 
Wilson loved eating in a new place, and Jackie had some nice, sugary breakfast to feed his excitement. Amber, though, still feeling groggy, refused to eat. Brain was just glad she awoke at all.
“What’s our plan today, Bri?” Jackie asked. “Find a tornado shelter and ride out the storm?”
“I think we need to take Amber to see Doctor Romber. Having a necklace is one thing, but actually having a live person to back us up is another.” He looked over at Amber, who now sat on the couch, eyes closed, legs curled, and knew she would only get worse under Kevill’s control. “He might be able to help you, too, Amber.”
“Uh, huh,” was all she said in reply.
“How are you feeling, girl?” said Jackie, who went over and placed a hand on Amber’s shoulder.
“Groggy. Head hurts. Still operating . . . inside.”
“All the more reason to see Romber and figure this out,” said Brian. Amber’s condition made him feel angry, tense.“That sounds good,” said Jackie. She turned to Wilson at the kitchen table. “I guess you want me to watch Wilson here?” “No. Old Wilson can go to daycare, right, Wil?” He thought the place would be safe enough for his kid. He hoped. They wouldn’t go there, would they?
Wilson stopped shoving the cereal in his mouth. “No, Dad. I don’t wanna! I wanna stay here! I can help, too!”
The three friends couldn’t help but smile. “He’s all right. Really he is,” said Jackie. “We’ll play some games.” “You don’t have to work?” said Brian.
“No. Today’s my day off. And I have no plans. Believe me. My plans would be pushed to the side anyway if I did.”
“Oh, I believe you. But are you sure you want this crazy kid?” Brian got up off the floor and messed Wilson’s hair before taking a quick look out the window.
“No prob.”
“Okay. Let’s wait a few hours before I call Romber to see if he’s around.”
“He’d better be around. Doesn’t he know there’s a crisis going on?” said Jackie.
 
#
 
Back at the lab, Kevill and Josh had convened early for what Kevill promised to be a busy day. The psych professor wore jeans, a baseball cap, and a loose, short-sleeved, blue shirt. And his associates soon found out Kevill was in a much better mood than the previous night, which surprised them from the circumstances.
“Josh. I need updates on all inoculants. It’s time to run a new batch of nanites for President Nelson, Fratameier’s group, and Mister Reynolds.”
“Mike Reynolds, sir?”
“Yes. I spoke to him some more on Sunday. He’s our ticket to the student population. Nelson will hit university staff. Fratameier will begin with faculty . . . and his quilting group,” Kevill said the words with disdain, “will start the process in the outlying community, starting with grandparents on down.”
Josh raised his eyebrows and let out a quick sigh.
“Right. It’s a lot of work, but I believe, starting today, that we are ready to take this project to its next level. Don’t you agree?”
“Sure, Herr Doctor.” Josh, dressed in black jeans and a tight gray shirt, leaned against the lab office’s wall, his cowboy boots crossed. “But how will we disseminate and keep track of new inoculants? So far it has been pretty easy to monitor.”
“You’ve got the program, right? We have their system signs, their movements, their parameters. A hundred or a thousand, things can be handled from here . . . at least for now.”
“Yes. The computer will keep them organized. But what if one goes wrong, like with Miss Hays?”
Kevill shot Josh an angry look. “Nothing has gone wrong with her! She has proved a benefit to our experiment. Now we know more about what areas to hit harder and what to monitor more closely, right?”
“I guess.” Josh looked down at the floor. He knew Amber was a sore spot, she and Brian Minor. What he didn’t know was why, exactly, she had proved such an unexpected difficulty in recent days. Nothing had gone wrong with Fratameier, he thought. Something in the computing. Something in the process.
“What?” Kevill bit at Josh again, breaking the German from his pondering.
“We are only a team of three, maybe four,” he said. “Are you thinking about recruiting more?” He thought about Daka as if to say, More . . . like this ex-terrorist?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Josh. For now, let’s prepare for the inoculations.” Kevill stood over the office’s computer and didn’t face Josh, his husky arms supporting his weight over the desk. “You know that inoculants will start doing it on their own. Just like with Doctor Fratameier. We just need to provide the proper containers to bring the Torus to them.”
“Okay,” said Josh. “Okay. I’ll look over it right now.” He left the office for the main lab area.
Kevill’s cell beeped. “Kevill here.” A familiar face came up on the cell screen. “Oh, yes, Frank. Good to hear from you! . . . This Friday? Sure, sure. No problem. . . I have much to report to you. We’re doing pretty well on this end. Things are going . . . ah . . . better than planned, I’d have to say. And what about yourself? Flu, eh? Well, that happens. I trust you’re doing a little better.”
Kevill brought Frank Barnes’ chart up on the monitor. His DOD contact looked within specifications, with no major problems from his inoculation that previous Friday.
“Right. I know we have a lot to discuss. And, if I’m not mistaken, I’ll have some . . . samples for you to bring up there to Washington, okay? Flight 245. Right. I’ll send Daka to pick you up. Kevill out.”
He sat down in a chair and spun around a few times, smiling. “Oh, yes. I see it now. By the end of the summer, our little university, even the nation’s capitol, won’t know what hit them.”
 
#
 
Still at Jackie’s apartment, Brian had just called their computing science contact.
“We’re in luck! Doctor Romber is in and has agreed to see me and Amber.” Brian’s smile was infectious. He knew that Amber was in a bad way but had decided to keep an optimistic attitude and see what came about.
“Cool,” said Jackie, who had set Wilson to sorting her DVD collection again. “Do you want Carol to come along again . . . since she’s good at computers and everything?”
Brian thought about it. “No. I don’t want to put her in any more danger than she’s been in already. Call her and tell her we’ll meet up later today to discuss our next move.”
“Sure. And call me from your cell after seeing Romber,” said Jackie. “I want to hear what you found out right away.”
Brian smiled again. He took Amber by the hand and held tight. “Thanks for all your help, Jack. I won’t forget it.”
“Anytime, fly guy. Maybe I’m not the woman of your dreams, but at least I get to see you happy.” She looked at Brian and Amber together and opened the front door to let them out.
“Was I that sad looking before?”
“Oh, not terrible or anything,” Jackie replied, “but I knew something was missing. I just hope now you’ve found it.”
Amber, though her head ached from the changes happening inside and she was having difficulty speaking, smiled at Jackie and gave her a little kiss on the cheek.
“Well!” Jackie said.
They left Jackie’s apartment and drove the ten or so minutes to the Computing Science parking lot, again fairly bare of cars.
Romber’s office also hadn’t changed in the day that Jackie, Brian, and Carol had visited him. Brian still saw the plastic cartridges lining one bookcase and the notebook computer on the desk, though a few of the cartridges did lie on the desktop, like Romber had recently been using them. Once arriving, they hadn’t stayed but a minute after introductions before Romber led them down the hallway to a computing science lab on the same floor.
“I wanted to show you more about this pendant you gave me,” he said, escorting the pair through a “Computing Lab Personnel Only” door and into a large, well-lit room with about 30 flat-screen monitors that were fastened into low cubicle walls. The floors were solid white tile. And along two of the room’s white brick walls were dry-erase boards, one having some mathematical formulae written on it. The other walls only had a few scattered papers pinned up, supposedly for announcements and such. 
Romber led them past the cubicle workstations—now all vacant—and to a larger main workstation at the lab’s far end. There a huge plasma monitor adorned one wall, now showing a picture of an idyllic hillside, river, and trees. Surrounding the blacktopped counter of the workstation were two machines. One, Brian had seen before in the nano-lab he and Carol had broken into the past weekend, where Carol had showed him a protein magnification. The other machine, just as large and metallic as its brother, also had a view screen attached to it and two knobs that must have been controlling mechanisms.
“Look here.” Romber directed the two to gaze at the plasma monitor on the wall. Once Brian had circled behind the counter, he noticed the Torus pendant rested inside the second machine’s casing, looking petite and fragile housed in a tough, metal shell. Romber flipped a switch, and he and Amber saw the pendant up on the monitor, now magnified.
“You know, at first I thought you guys were pulling some kind of prank on me,” he said excitedly, turning the image on the screen to look at it from different angles. “But, once I started analyzing this thing, my mind began to change.”
He looked again at his visitors. “She has been ‘infected’, as you say?”
Amber’s head swayed a bit; she blinked rapidly. Brian made sure she was planted on a firm chair, his hand positioned on her neck for support.
“Yes, Doctor Romber,” said Brian. “As we speak, they are doing something to her head. Just look at her. I wouldn’t even have gotten her out of bed if I didn’t think you could help us.”
Romber looked at Amber for a moment and showed some concern in his face. “Well, maybe I can. This is the pendant at magnification of ten times. Nothing special. Just a silver shape, like that twisted Torus we talked about yesterday.”
“Uh, huh,” said Brian.
“But see what happens when we magnify further.” He turned a knob. “I’m taking it up to one hundred times.”
Brian’s eyes grew larger, for on the monitor, the skin of the pendant no longer looked as smooth as it did to the naked eye. There, he could see small holes.
“Whoever engineered this thing knew something about miniature technology,” Romber continued. “Let’s take it up to a thousand times magnification and focus on one of those holes.” He did so, and on the screen a large cavern opened up, a perfectly round hole like that of a flute or some other musical instrument. Inside, it was dark, but Brian could have sworn something moved.
“What was that?” he asked in surprise. Amber jerked to some attention from his tone.
“Just what I asked,” said Romber. “Perfect holes at such a magnification are one thing. But it also seems something is operating inside that pendant of yours. Quite an amazing thing, really. Could it be a computer? I asked.”
“Well, is it?” said Brian. He took his other hand and squeezed Amber’s arm. Her flesh felt cold.
“For an answer to that, I took the thing to another measuring device, this one able to pick up on frequency transmissions. Even at the nano level, you see, a computer produces tiny charges that, in turn, can be read. That’s when this mystery necklace got even more interesting.”
“Uh, huh,” said Brian, now completely enthralled by Romber’s show and tell.
“When I measured this device of yours, I did indeed read a minute but powerful transmission.”
“Like a cell phone or something?”
“A little but not quite. You see, a mobile phone produces a distinct electrical output. A nanocomputer, though, produces—or can produce—chemical transmissions. At least, I believe this one is doing so. Almost organic, like the electrical signals in our Central Nervous System, but still capable of relaying information from one place to the next. Most instruments wouldn’t even pick it up.”
Brian stared at the monitor and the sharp image of the hole. He thought about what Romber had said. Like a brain? Like an operating, chemical brain? “So can these transmissions . . . can they be blocked?”
“Like iron does to cell phone transmissions?”
“Right.”
“I believe so.” Romber again took in the droopy face of Amber, who had not spoken since they had met. “And if you’re right—and they are doing something to her from the inside—maybe we can stop the process and pull her out of it.”
“Great! How?” Brian felt he would at last have Amber as Amber again, without the interference he knew she was feeling from the nanodevices in her head.
Romber played with his thick, black moustache. “Well, I think it can happen as a dual function. We both interfere with what’s already there and block out as many incoming transmissions as possible.”
“And how do we do that?”
“With this.” The professor reached down under the countertop, opened a cabinet door, and pulled out what looked to be a regular baseball cap, a completely black baseball cap. “An old device I had in the garage.”
“That’ll stop the transmissions? A cap?”
“No,” said Romber, “not just a cap.” He turned the hat over to reveal crosshairs of electronics fastened underneath. “What is woven into the cap is what counts.
“You see, a few years back, this Swedish company . . . what was the name? Anyway, they patented this hat to protect people from supposedly harmless cell phone transmissions. It even has little ear flaps that come down.” He pulled out two, thin ear coverings from the cap’s inside fold. “Neat, huh?”
“Didn’t catch on?”
“Not fashionable, I guess,” Romber sighed. “Good science must come in an appealing package, you see.”
“Yeah.” Brian was ready to put the cap on Amber, though, if it would make her better.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the most comfortable fit for her, but, according to the readings I’m getting from your pendant, I think it might just work on the stuff that’s going on in her head.” He pointed to the lines of thin wiring barely noticeable throughout the cap. “This baby is an interference device, something I augmented for our purposes this morning. Once on, any foreign transmission within, say, a half-meter, will be disrupted.”
“Without causing her any more pain?” Brian was worried the device would only worsen Amber’s condition.
“Well, I can’t promise that. But, along with some extra padding I placed in it, the cap should stop any more probing from the outside at least.”
“How do we know it won’t interfere with her regular brain chemistry, doc?” Brian felt more and more sure that Kevill’s experiment somehow mimicked real neural actions. “You said nanocomputers could operate on a chemical level.”
“Well, it’s a bit experimental, I have to admit. But the pulses emanating from this mini-computer in her helmet should only affect the implanted devices, not her own neural network.” Brian looked at Amber and again at Romber. “I hope you’re right. Let’s try it out.” He patted his girlfriend on the shoulder, the contact bringing a déjà vu feeling in Brian’s own head. Rebecca? “Amber? Amber, we’re going to put something on your head. Just be calm.”
Brian’s warning really didn’t matter since she was pretty much out of it. In only the hour or so since they had left Jackie’s apartment, Amber seemed to have plummeted in ability to talk and even register what was going on around her.
With Romber’s help, he fitted the baseball cap on her head. It was a little big for her, but it fit okay from the extra material Romber had placed inside.
The two men watched her closely, and, after about a minute, they noticed her closed eyes going into REM-like action, quickly moving back and forth under her lids. This motion took about two minutes, and then Amber let out a long sigh and fluttered open her eyes.
“Brian,” she said, a look of relief on her face.
“Amber,” Brian said nonchalantly, now smiling himself.
Amber placed her hands on the new hat adorning her head. “What’s this?”
“I guess it worked,” Brian said to Romber. And to Amber, “We put this on you to block Kevill’s transmissions.”
Amber shrugged and paced about the room near the two men. “Something is different,” she said.
“Do you feel a link to Kevill’s computer?” said Brian.
“Some . . . but not near as strong.” She looked funny to Brian, her dark hair sticking out from underneath the cap. “I still feel dizzy, confused a little. But I also feel myself getting more . . . clarity.”
“Great!” Brian gave Amber a short but strong hug, which surprised the girl. “Doctor Romber, our thanks!”
“Sure. But you know, Brian, she can’t wear this all her life.”
The statement brought Brian down to earth. “Yeah. I know. We’ve got to address the cause of the problem.” He turned to Romber with a serious face. “Are you with us? Will you help us bring Doctor Kevill’s experiments to light?”
Romber stroked his moustache and shut down the computer equipment they had used. He then grabbed up the pendant. “Mind if I keep this a few more days? Maybe I can discover some more.”
“Sure,” said Brian.
“And I’ll look into things on my end,” Romber said. “There’s definitely something going on here, something I don’t think I like. Smith, our department head, might want this info, too.”
“Right.” Brian put an arm around Amber’s shoulder. “I don’t like it either, Doctor Romber. Please do what you can. And call me whenever.”
“Okay, Brian. Will do. Let me see you guys out.” Romber escorted the couple to the computing science building’s main stairway. “See you soon.”
“Okay,” said Brian. And the pair walked slowly across the parking lot, Brian looking carefully to see if anyone followed.


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