The Torus Project

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

Chapter 30 (v.1)

Submitted: February 15, 2011

Reads: 57

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Submitted: February 15, 2011

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Chapter 30
8:00 a.m., Wednesday
Brian let Amber sleep in a bit the next morning while he and Wilson played some video games in the living room.
“Are you going to marry her?” Wilson popped out in the middle of a racing game.
Brian stared at his son and ended up wrecking his virtual car. “What?”
“Are you and Amber getting married?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that one, sport! She is a special person to me, though. I want you and Amber to get to know each other better.”
“I like her. But why is she wearing that baseball cap all the time? Does she like baseball?”
“Her head hurts now, Wil, so she has to wear it. She’ll get rid of it soon, though.” Brian thought about Rebecca, about how hard it must be seeing Dad with another woman.
He cut off the game and placed a hand on Wilson’s shoulder. “No one can replace mom, okay, guy? No one.”
Wilson stared at his father for a moment and blinked. “I know.”
Brian’s cell beeped. Only eight o’clock in the morning, he thought. Who would be calling this early?
“Yeah.”
“Brian, Doctor Romber.”
“Oh, hey, Doctor Romber!” No video, just voice.
“I’ve discovered . . . ah . . . something I think you and your friend will be interested in. Can you both come over?”
“Sure. At least I think so, Doctor Romber. What is it? Something else about the necklace?”
Romber sniffed. “No. No, the necklace seems fine, pretty harmless, actually. It’s how I can help your friend, really. I think I can help her take off that cap and still be okay.”
“Great!”
“Can you be here in an hour or so?”
“Ah, I’ll have to get a sitter for my son, but I don’t think that will be a problem. I’ll call you right back, though, to confirm, okay?” He pressed the memory button on his cell to redial the doctor’s number later.
“Right. I’ll talk to you then. Romber out.”
“Bye.” Romber out? thought Brian. That’s strange. And I thought he had found some things in the necklace?
Brian called Jackie’s apartment. She didn’t answer until the fifth or sixth ring and sounded sleepy on the other end. Her video wasn’t up either. What’s with people blocking their faces this morning? he thought.
“Jackie. You all right? Sorry if I woke you.”
“Oh, Brian!” She sounded surprised, her voice raspy. “No, no. Just tired. That’s all. Carol and I stayed up late last night watching a movie.”
“Oh. You have to work today?”
A pause and a slow moan. “Later on, I think. Why?” “Just wondered if you could watch Wil for a few hours. I’ve got to bring Amber back to Romber’s lab.”
“That would be fine. Bring him on over.”
“You sure?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine. Just a little tired. That’s all.”
“Great. Thanks again, Jack. See you in a few.”
Brian woke up Amber, who quickly got ready to revisit Romber’s office. “I would be ever so glad to get rid of this thing.” She had tried a nice shower but soon realized this would just have to be a bad hair day, at least at first, since the water (and possible moisture) might ruin the circuits in her headpiece.
The three of them got into Brian’s car, Brian looking carefully around the lot for a hidden Daka or two, and drove to Jackie’s place. Wilson was excited to get out; he was ready for an adventure. Jackie’s lot looked clear as well, so they knocked on her door. Carol answered. She looked tired as well, her long, black hair flayed around her shoulders, no makeup, face pale.
“Oh, hi, Carol. You going to help out with this little trouble maker?” Brian gently pushed his boy into the apartment.
“Where are you going, Dad?” Wilson spun, now knowing his adventure was just some time in someone else’s apartment.
“To school for a little bit, Wil. You be a good boy with Jackie and Carol, okay?”
Carol stepped back with a weak smile and said, “Hi, guys.” Jackie stood by the kitchen counter, wiping her face with a towel.
“Yeah, Carol decided to stay over since we were up so late. Hi, Amber. How are you feeling?” The question seemed less-than-genuine.
Amber gave the girls a questioning look and then smiled. “Okay. I’ll be ready to be normal again, though.”
“Right,” said Jackie. “Normal.”
“You won’t be able to stay up late as much once school starts again next week,” Brian added.
“Uh, huh,” said Jackie, who approached Wilson and patted his head. “How are you, little guy? You remember my place, don’t you? Did you bring some games to play while your dad’s gone?”
“Yep!” said Wilson, who got excited at the mention of some video games. “Tool Maker and Josh a Posh!”
“Excellent.” Jackie sat down on the couch after Carol, who stared out the window, rubbed her eyes, and stared back at Brian. “Well, you guys hurry back and tell me how it went, all right?”
“Sure. We hope Romber can help Amber out some more. Later.” Brian reopened the door and put an arm around Amber. “Wilson, you be a good guy, okay? Jackie, lock the door after me . . . just in case.”
“Right,” said Jackie. “Talk to you in about an hour or so?”
“Hopefully.”
And they left, again making their way carefully to Brian’s car.
“They sure looked tired, Brian,” Amber said.
“Yeah, but I’m sure they’ll still be able to handle Wilson for a bit.”
“No, it’s not that.”
“What then?” Brian opened her door and helped Amber inside the car.
“Oh, nothing. Just reminds me of being so tired recently at Doctor Kevill’s.”
Brian looked toward Jackie’s apartment. “You don’t think?”“No, I’m sure they just stayed in and vegged out. They seem smart enough not to let people in.”
“Okay.” Brian bit his lip. “Maybe I should bring Wilson with us.”
“No, Brian.” Amber leaned over to try to pull him into the driver’s seat. “I’m sure he’s all right. Just my worrying . . . with everything happening lately and stuff.”
Brian gave in and locked the doors after he started the car. “You would sense it if they were . . . you know . . . wouldn’t you?”
Amber closed her eyes for a moment. “Before, maybe. But now, with this blocker on, I’m not so sure.” She grabbed Brian’s hand. “It’s fine. Let’s get this thing off of me, and then we can work on stopping Kevill, okay?”
Brian smiled and put the car into gear. “Right. First things first.”
They made their way to the Computing Science building and to Romber’s office. The door was closed. A knock produced a “Who is it?”, and Brian and Amber soon entered and saw the professor sitting at his desk handling one of his plastic cartridges. The office lights were out, with only the sun from the professor’s large window overlooking thecampus illuminating the room.
Brian soon realized that Romber had the same clothes on from the previous day. The professor’s collar was crinkled, his hair sticking up in back. He looked at an old brown couch in the office and supposed the professor had stayed there all night. Wasn’t he married? he thought. Did he often stay here when working on a project?
“Good you could make it on such short notice,” Romber said, putting down his project and gesturing to his office chairs. “Please close the door. And have a seat. Have a seat.” Brian and Amber sat across from the desk. Romber gave them a smile. He fingered his long moustache and stared at the pair for a little longer than was comfortable for Brian.
“You said you could help Amber get rid of your cap here?” Brian broke the silence after about thirty seconds or so. Amber gave her lover a quizzical look.
“Ah . . . Yes, yes!” Romber sniffed a few times and reached down to produce the Torus necklace from the top of his desk. He fingered the jewelry in one hand and took up the cartridge in the other. “Quite amazing. Quite amazing.”
“Sir?” said Brian.
“The Torus shape. Very beautiful, don’t you think?” He twisted the cartridge in his hand to show the graphic of the Torus he had demonstrated to Brian, Jackie, and Carol earlier. “Yeah, I guess.” Brian looked more carefully at Romber and noticed the man also had not shaven; his eyes were bloodshot, his lips chapped. Something not right here.  “How can we help out Amber, Doctor Romber?”The professor didn’t seem to register the question. “A thousand million galaxies, each with a thousand million stars. And we are so much a part! Our very brains are connected!”
Brian’s hackles rose. Something definitely not right. This was not the same Doctor Romber he had seen just the day before, a friendly, questioning, energetic man.
“All connected by the simple shape of the Torus. Seamless. Beautiful. Full of meaning and of promise!” Romber had twisted his cartridge around again to gaze at its picture, his eyes large and livid. He lay the plastic device down and took up the necklace in both hands.
“You don’t mind if I keep this, do you?” Romber’s eyes twinkled, and he placed the pendant around his neck.
Amber turned to Brian and screamed “No!”
Brian jumped up from his chair and grabbed Amber’s arm. “Run!”
“But where are you going?” Romber laughed. His laughter soon lost control, and he cackled as he leaned back in his chair, cackled and coughed.
Amber did dart to the door and opened it, but she didn’t get any further than that. As Brian fixed his gaze on Romber to make sure the man didn’t try to intercept them, he heard a sigh from behind him and, upon looking back, saw Amber’s body fall to the floor. Daka, his hand in the form of karate chop, stood over her, smiling.
“Daka” was all Brian could mutter.
The African deftly closed the door behind him and produced a small, glass spray bottle from a light sport jacket he wore.
“I think you know what this is, Mista Minor,” he told Brian, holding the bottle up higher. Behind him, Brian heard Romber stop laughing, cough a few more times, and get up from his desk chair, causing the student to back away from both Daka and Romber toward the office window.
“Do not try any business this time,” Daka continued, taking a step toward Brian. “Do not try to resist.”
“Really not that bad, Brian,” said Romber, who stood behind his desk, smiling and playing with his moustache. He pressed a button on his holo phone on the desk’s return, and the machine whirred to life, slowly forming a face mid-air about a meter above the desk. The one face that Brian did not want to see.
“Oh, good,” said Kevill. His face, a bit chubby, hair pulled back in a ponytail, was ghost-like but also very detailed, seemingly bigger than in real life. He looked at Brian directly as if the holophone’s camera was pointed at the psychology student.“Yes, well, sir Brian. Looks like it’s time we had a little talk. Relax and allow Daka to help you out. Breathe deeply, you know. A relatively painless procedure, really.” Kevill winked and smiled.
Brian looked down at Amber, at her body on the floor. She seemed to be breathing at least, but Brian couldn’t stand to see her vulnerable again. Not after what they had shared. Not after he had realized how much the girl meant to him.How could I be so stupid! They traced us to Romber!
He thought about bull rushing the black man but realized Daka’s speed would place whatever was in that bottle into the air—and into Brian himself—before he could do much damage.
“Deep breaths, Minor,” Daka said, taking another step.
“Yes, deep breaths, my boy,” said Kevill from the desk. Romber beamed at Kevill with adoration. “Only a matter of time now. No use fighting. Join her! Embrace the Torus!”
Brian feinted toward Daka, who raised the bottle up in anticipation. He took one last pained look at Amber lying on the floor, shot a glance at Kevill, and took another look toward Romber as if to ask “How could you?”; Brian then wheeled on his heels, putting his arms in front of his face, and dove headfirst out the second-story window. His last thoughts were that he couldn’t be taken, he couldn’t be a pawn for Doctor Kevill. Wilson depended on him. Amber depended on him. He needed to stay alive and clear-headed.
The quiet May morning shattered for Brian as he hurtled toward the ground below. Somehow, his body had made it through the glass pane of Romber’s office. But he only had an instant to think after that; he tried to curl up to absorb the impact. Glass stung his arms and chest. The impact knocked the wind out of him, and his consciousness spun away.
 
#
 
“He what?”
Kevill’s holographic head craned to pick up the action from the room through his connection. “Jumped, sir,” said Daka without passion. “Through the window. I couldn’t stop him.”
“He jumped from Romber’s office? Shit! Get out of there! We don’t need you getting involved with the police or anything. Let Romber handle it.”
“Yes, sir. And Amber? She’s unconscious as well.”
“Out the window?”
“No. By my hands. She lays on the office floor.”
“Take that damn hat off her and let her be. Tell Romber to say these students broke in, Mister Minor at least. Minor hit the girl then jumped. Okay?” Romber coughed as he looked at his office’s broken window.
“Yes, sir.”
“Make it quick. And come back here to the lab. Kevill out.” The face abruptly disappeared from the room.
Romber went over and stared out past the glass shards, down at the sidewalk below and the unconscious body of Brian Minor. “He didn’t want to come with us, did he?” His question was to no one in particular. “Poor boy. He couldn’t see the beauty. The beauty.”
Daka removed Amber’s hat and placed it on one of Romber’s chairs, leaving her on the floor. Next, the African shook the professor, told him what to say to the police, and left Romber alone to stare down at a growing body of people looking over Brian’s inert body. Daka finally made a swift exit from the building before anyone could spot him.
An ambulance was called. Police and administrative officials filled Romber’s office, asking questions. Romber told them what Daka had said to say—that two students had a fight, one knocking down the other before jumping from the window. Brian’s body was taken to the hospital, where he was treated, luckily, only for cuts, a concussion, and some bruised ribs. Unconscious, he was kept sedated and placed in a room to monitor his condition overnight.
 
#
 
Brian’s sleep, though drugged, wasn’t very restful. Even with the pain medication, Brian’s body hurt. His mind hurt as well. It seemed his last chance to help Amber, to free himself from this web that had developed around his life, had disappeared with Doctor Romber now being infected. Who else can I turn to? What am I to do?
Brian struggled with consciousness, knowing he had to find a phone and get in touch with Jackie. She had to know the news. He had to see if Wilson was all right. But the drugs kept him down; the quiet and clean hospital room, which might seem so safe to many, tried to soothe him into a false sense of security. What if they come here to finish me off? The white-walled room spun around him, turning into a cell he knew he had to escape.
Dreams of Daka spraying liquid in his face disturbed him for most of the night. He saw Wilson crying, being carried off by Doctor Kevill and hooked up to some machine, wires and electrodes all over his boy’s body and head. In his fitful sleep, Brian tossed and talked out loud. His wife, Rebecca, walked to him, all bloody and weak. “You left me, Brian. How could you leave me?” And all his friends—Mike, Jackie, Carol, Amber—they walked toward him, their faces ghostly white and smiling. “Come to the Torus”, they moaned in unison. “Come with us.” Their hands stretched out to pull him down. He fought. He screamed. Kevill was there, behind his friends, laughing. Daka and Doctor Uhland stood there as well, eyes dark and menacing. “Yes, come with us, why don’t you, Mister Minor?” said Kevill, at which Brian tried to break free. He yelled “No!” and awoke to the dark hospital room, the smell of antiseptic cleaner, the soft blips of a machine by his bed.“Looks like you’re having a rough time, Brian Minor.” The voice, a soothing bass, came from a shadow of a man standing next to Brian’s bed. He blinked, thinking the image part of a dream, but the silhouette stayed put. Brian then panicked and yelled; he threw his sheets off and attempted to jump out of bed, thinking another servant of the Torus had come to get him.A firm hand grasped his arm. “Hush, boy. You’ll stir the hospital staff. I’m not here to hurt you. Believe me.”
Brian’s drug-filled head and wracked body had difficulty fighting the man’s stay and his words.
“I . . . I must call about my son,” Brian stammered. He looked up at the man more closely now. Not a young man, older. He could see white hair in the room’s low light. The man had on a loose, short-sleeved shirt and some slacks. “Who are you?” “Your son is okay, though I don’t think the people who care for him are the same friends you once knew.” The man let go of Brian’s arm and pulled up a roller chair from the corner of the room. His eyes glistened as he talked. “As for me, just call me Carson.”
“Wilson!” Brian’s mind struggled to make sense of what he had just heard. “Jackie. Carol! They’re infected?”
“Yes.” Montgomery said at length, again touching Brian’s arm, this time in tenderness. “Look, I’m . . . I’m infected, too, Brian. That’s how I know about you, by listening into the minds of others taken into Doctor Kevill’s circle.”
Brian quickly withdrew his arm, a look of fear filling his eyes. He again rolled over, this time falling off the other side of his bed and hitting the floor. He muffled a yell from the pain to his head and ribs.
Montgomery came around and stood over Brian again. “No!” Brian said. “Leave me alone!”
“Boy, I said I wasn’t going to hurt you. Now, let me help you up.”
Brian saw no conspicuous spray bottle, and the man didn’t even seem to be wearing the Torus necklace. But if he had been infected, Brian knew he couldn’t be trusted. “Leave me alone!”
“Suit yourself, Brian. But I came to help.”
“You’re one of them,” Brian said through gritted teeth. The man’s face seemed familiar.Brian knew he had run across him before. A psych professor? “You—”
“—are immune . . . to some extent,” Montgomery interrupted. His voice took on a tone of urgency, of passion. He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked toward the room’s closed door as if a nurse would enter any moment and find Brian sprawled out on the floor. “And if you want me to help you through this mess, let’s get you up first so you can listen to me properly.”
“I . . .” But Brian sensed that, somehow, this mystery man was telling the truth. Maybe he doesn’t want to hurt me. He allowed Montgomery to help him back in bed, his bruised ribs shooting with pain as he moved.
“I’m Doctor Carson Montgomery, department of psychology at OU. I teach, mainly, social psychology these days. Your . . . nemesis, Doctor Kevill, came to see me the other day. Little did I know he would end up changing the structure of my brain!” Montgomery’s words were more hushed now but still forceful. “I was sick, of course. For two days I lay in bed, dreams spinning around inside me, new and wonderful thoughts filling my head. But something inside me fought. I knew this wasn’t me. I knew something had taken over and was placing new thoughts on top of an identity I’ve known for years and years.”
Montgomery paused for a moment and gave Brian a weak smile. “Yes, Kevill’s brain creatures tried to feed me wonderful visions of the Torus, that we’re all connected and one. But, Brian, this is stuff I already knew. So I fought the control by embracing it, actively integrating the powers I felt with the me I knew. This I have done, sheltered and lying in bed, for the past day. Still, the thoughts push me. I have memories and ideas that I’ve never known before.
“Then I felt you. I knew your strength from sensing others’ thoughts. I knew your story and your quest.”
Brian lay back and took everything Montgomery was telling him. “And, yesterday,” the old man continued, “Wednesday, I felt your struggle from Doctor Romber. He, too, was infected, as you say. Kevill would say inoculated against the infection of the world. His thoughts were strong. For moments there in my bed at home, I felt as if I could see you, on the sidewalk below, people surrounding you and wondering what to do.
“I then knew what I had to do. For some reason, Kevill’s team has forgotten about me for the time being. I knew I had to find you and, together, see what we could do to stop this little . . . project before it gets any worse.”
Montgomery went silent and wiped some sweat from his forehead. From what he had said, Brian believed him. How else could he know so much . . . unless Kevill was laying a trap? He looked at an illuminated clock next to his bed. Two o’clock in the morning. How did Doctor Montgomery get up here at this time of night anyway? Brian closed his eyes and tried to relax. Am I already infected, too, and just don’t know it yet? Did Daka somehow find me when I was unconscious and implant those things?“Let’s get your clothes on.” Montgomery went to the room’s small closet and withdrew Brian’s jeans, t-shirt, socks, and shoes. “And then, I’m afraid we need to leave. I don’t know how long you can stay here without them coming to finish what they started.”
“But . . . but where? I need to go find my son!” Brian sat up in bed and felt dizzy. His head still rang from its impact the day before.
“All in good time,” Montgomery said, the wrinkles in his face giving way to another weak smile. “I may be old, but I have some life still left in me. We have much to do, Brian Minor. Let’s find a safe place, a place to plan. We have to put a stop to Andrew Kevill and his misguided project now . . . before it’s too late.”


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