The Torus Project

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

Chapter 32 (v.1)

Submitted: February 15, 2011

Reads: 49

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Submitted: February 15, 2011



Chapter 32
6:35 p.m., Thursday
At first, Brian was confused about Montgomery’s actions. A gun? The kindly old man was the last person Brian would have thought to possess a gun and propose to use it. Weren’t the Torus messages streaming through his head adamantly against even touching a weapon? Brian himself wasn’t really afraid of guns; he’d received training in the Air Force, though only in small arms since much of his time was spent as a mechanic. 
He remembered Rebecca holding a gun once during her training. At the time, they laughed at how good a shot she had turned out to be. Now, the memory only gave Brian a cold feeling. It was mostly due to Rebecca’s violent end that had caused him to leave the military and then pursue more heady interests in school. Though he now realized that such a path was wrought with denial and repression, he still didn’t think he would ever see a gun up close like that again.
The pair carefully accessed Montgomery’s office on the first floor of Montor, gathering a few items the professor thought relevant—some rope from a departmental tug of war contest not long back and a handheld computer.
“Might need these,” he said. Brian thought it a strange match, though he soon learned their destination that evening: Dr. Josh Uhland’s house. When asked how he knew about the computing science professor, Montgomery said the name had often popped into his head in relation to the project.
“I could have told you he is Doctor Kevill’s right-hand man,” said Brian as they safely entered Montgomery’s car again and headed away from campus.
“Oh, well. Then we both know how important a catch he would be . . . and a link to accessing the lab.” Montgomery seemed in better and better spirits as his “plan” unfolded before Brian’s eyes. Brian, though, felt more and more uneasyat the prospect of pointing a gun at Dr. Uhland and forcing the man to let them in the lab. A seventy-something professor and a beat-up student didn’t seem a great match versus the taunt and healthy Uhland.
“So suppose we get Doctor Uhland to take us to the lab. Then what?” Brian’s face sweated even though Montgomery had kept on the car’s air.
“Oh, we’ll know what to do” was the old man’s only answer.
Brian let out a small groan and rubbed his aching head. He looked out the car window at the last remnants of light. “Sorry, doc, but that doesn’t sound like the best plan to me. I’ve got to get my son back! I want to free up my friends so that they’re real people again! How do you propose we do that?”
Montgomery turned to Brian and looked at him as if he were looking at someone else. “Just like Hue. Just like Hue.” The older man then rubbed his temples, the car veering a moment out of its lane.
Brian’s eyebrows furrowed. “Your son? Hue? What do you mean?”
Montgomery smiled. “He questioned just like that. So full of life. I miss him.”
For a moment, Brian forgot his questions and concentrated on the old man.  “How did he die?”
Montgomery said nothing for a minute and then quietly told his son’s story. In the military. Top of his class. Rose in rank quickly. Was asked to join the Special Forces, where he was decorated for bravery and skill. Died in Somalia 1993.
“I’m sorry, Carson. I lost my wife, too. Iraq. 2003.”
The professor wiped a tear from his eye. “Brave boy, Hue. Brave boy. Our only boy.” He looked at Brian again as if memory filled in his sight. “We’ve got to stop them, brave boy. They won’t take you away from me again.”
Brian shared the pain. He also realized then that Dr. Carson Montgomery might be helping him for all the wrong reasons. The nanites in the man’s head, he thought. What are they doing to him? Feeding his memories? Making them mixed up with right now?Suddenly, he was swept with a feeling of being alone. Just like he had felt after losing Rebecca. But worse now. Wilson was gone. His friends gone. The one person who had showed him to feel again, Amber, lost after he thought he had found her for good.
Brian knew he couldn’t fully trust Montgomery, but maybe the man had an idea. Get to the lab. Somehow. Get to the lab. And maybe he could figure out a way to unplug everyone from the main computers there. Maybe.
He helped Montgomery to Josh’s house, though the older man seemed pretty much to know the way on his own. The thought of seeing Kevill’s face for the first time on the computing science professor’s computer haunted Brian still. And again, he saw Kevill the night he rescued Amber. In Romber’s office. Always looking. The man was always looking.
The car pulled 100 meters past Josh’s drive and came to a halt. The scene reminded Brian of parking past Kevill’s house not a few days before. That encounter had ended in temporary success; he hoped this one would fare even better. The house looked the same, newly constructed, modern. A light was on inside, but Brian wondered how they would gain access. Surely Dr. Uhland had security, being a top-notch computer man and all.
Montgomery grabbed the thick rope in his wrinkled hands. He looked exhilarated, a man on a mission. Brian didn’t notice where the professor had put his gun, but he was sure it had been tucked away somewhere on his person as well.
After a few moments of surveying the place, the older man breathed, “We’ll tie a rock to this rope and gain access on that second-floor balcony.” He pointed to a wooden overlook on the side of the house, one that stood above the garage. No cars were in the drive; the night felt full, with a bright moon in the sky and a soft wind hitting the trees about the pair.
The men exchanged glances. “You think you can climb it?” questioned Brian once they had gotten close enough to see Montgomery’s idea more clearly.
The older man shook his head vigorously like he was getting out of pool of water and pushed his finger in Brian’s chest. “Not me. You, Hue. You. Just like the trees by the lake. Remember?”
“Uh, huh.” Brian breathed. “But, doc. I’m not sure my ribs will hold.”
“Your feet, boy. Use your feet.” The man then started looking around for a suitable rock around which to tie the rope.
Crazy. And how does he suppose we even throw a weight like that up there? And won’t the noise alert Uhland?His nerve at their adventure was tearing; he grew more and more restless just to take the old man’s car and drive it away in search of his son.
“Ah! A good one!” Montgomery had located a stone lying next to one of the larger oaks in the front lawn. He crouched down to pick it up, but just then a car slowed down in the street and turned into the drive across the expansive front lawn.
“Move!” whispered Brian. He pulled the old man behind the large tree and hoped the car’s occupant didn’t see any movement in the dark. The car got close to the garage door, which opened, allowing the black Sable to enter, and closed again. Brian noticed Josh’s head in driver’s seat.
“Okay,” said Montgomery, a little winded. “Our prey has landed. Help me with this rock, my boy.”
Another light came on in the house, and Brian tried to keep his attention fixed to the structure as they, somehow, lifted the large rock between them and carried it toward the drive, its weight tearing at Brian’s chest. Eighty kilograms at least, the rough garden stone was fashioned to Montgomery’s rope with a number of knots that impressed Brian with their complexity.
“Navy days,” the old man whispered. “Okay. Now the pulley.” Montgomery proceeded to take the other end of the large, corded rope and toss it over the burly branch of a huge oak that grew next to and over the garage balcony. “Time to tug, my boy.”
Brian started to see a way. He at first thought, Why don’t we just climb the tree? But he soon saw the oak to be pretty much unassailable with an even truck and limbs that didn’t start growing until the ten-meter mark at least. Did Doctor Uhland cut the branches to thwart just such an easy access?
Even with injuries, Brian helped Montgomery to slowly hoist the rock up to a point where it swung close to the balcony. They made little noise other than grunts and heavy breathing, though Brian wanted to yell out from the pain in his ribs. He just knew Josh would come out on the deck at any moment and peer over to find the two men in their ridiculous stunt.
“Okay, Hue,” Montgomery beamed, like he had truly gone senile, “carefully jerk the rope up and down until it starts to swing. Let’s tweak it over the railing and let it rest on the balcony.”
“Sure.” Brian played along just so that his partner didn’t start yelling and get them both in trouble.
It took some doing, but they were actually able to swing the rock, still knotted well with the rope, creeping it over the balcony’s railing and tenderly onto the deck. It landed with a dull thump but not something loud enough to disturb anyone inside. At least Brian hoped. They worked a few minutes at the rope until it was free of the tree branch and hung by itself from the rock over the balcony’s railing to the ground below.
“Up and at ‘em, my boy!” said Montgomery, who gestured at the display they had created. He looked at Brian’s bandages and followed by saying, “Just remember the legs. Knot the rope around them. You know what to do.”
In fact, Brian did have an inkling. He had climbed a few ropes during military training exercises, but that had been years ago. He wasn’t in the same shape now, nor did he have bruised ribs back then. Yet the fact that this plan was actually starting to come together surprised him into taking the risk.
Montgomery got closer to Brian and pushed the gun, handle first, into the younger man’s ribs, making him wince. “Oh, and you might need this once you get to the top.” Brian grasped the cold weapon and stuffed it between his shirt and jeans in the small of his back. Once, he had sworn he would never touch such a killing machine again, not after losing his wife to enemy fire half a world away. But what choice did he have? He had to get Doctor Uhland to take him to the lab. He had to get back his son.
Fearful of discovery, Brian slipped two or three times before actually getting a foot hold on the rope. The old man helped him to gain a good grip, and he slowly made his way up the twelve or so meters to the balcony’s wood railing, the rock moving from his weight and ending up wedged against the balcony’s side. Slow going, but he finally managed to pull himself over the top, collapsing for a moment in agony. He wondered if he would ever heal after this night.
“I’ll meet you at the front!” whispered the doctor from down below. Brian saw him walk casually into the dark night and disappear. He turned his attention to the black, steel-lined, double-glass doors that led from the balcony to the house’s interior. Nothing could be seen inside due to darkness, but the moon’s illumination just allowed him to make out a couple of door knobs.
He got up and tried them. Locked. Now what was he suppose to do? Break through some glass like he had already done twice recently, once at Doctor Kevill’s house and then through Doctor Romber’s office window? He had a fleeting thought that all this glass meant something. A synchronicity. Before, he could see but not go. Now he went . . . with pain.
Surely, the noise of breaking glass would alert Doctor Uhland, he thought, who would probably call the police—or worse, Daka. He didn’t see any other route, though. Climbing the roof and through the chimney flashed through his mind . . . then he looked at the big rock on the balcony.
“Okay. What the hell,” he muttered to himself.
With thoughts of his son pushing adrenaline though a battered body, Brian took up the rope in his hands and hefted the rock up off the balcony floor. Searing pain coursed from his ribs, and he grunted as he next shuffled over to the glass doors and began to swing the rock, not unlike they had done to get it on the balcony in the first place, but this time between his spread legs. After a few flights through the night air, the rock finally impacted with the glass, sending fragments into the room and making a loud noise indeed.
Thinking to cover the noise somehow, Brian took a risky chance; he made a loud sound of his own, trying his best to be like a wounded cat. “Meeeeeow!” he wailed. He and Wil had often played animal noise games. He hoped the practice would forestall Dr. Uhland from calling any backup right away.
Brian didn’t wait to see if the computer scientist showed, though. He again removed his shirt, as he had done at Dr. Kevill’s. Next, he crashed out the remaining glass fragments to gain safe access to the house. Not bothering to unlock and open the door, Brian stepped over the rope-adorned rock and rushed into the upstairs room, which, in the moonlight, looked to hold some weight machines and an exercise bike. A large mirror on one wall reflected his shadow—he saw his bent-over shape, like a frightened animal in the night—as he crossed to the room’s far doorway, open and allowing in a faint light from beyond.
Quickly putting back on his shirt, he slowed his approach and crept through the room’s other open door, which looked upon an upstairs hallway, wooden floors gleaming in a soft light from the stairway to Brian’s left. A footstep sounded from below. Brian froze and darted back into the darkened weight room. He has to have an alarm system, he thought. Surely, the alarm company would call . . .
He heard the soft tweak of what must be an incoming call radiate throughout the house. The footsteps below hurried away, and Brian could just make out Dr. Uhland’s voice.
“No, I’m not sure. Maybe an animal triggered it. Call back in five minutes. If I give the wrong password, send the police.”
Brian pulled out the gun. He knew this was the only way. He had to convince Dr. Uhland to keep the police away and help them to the lab. He had to. As the footsteps returned to the stairway, Brian stepped out of his hiding place, gun grasped firmly in his free hand. Josh, attired in black, also looked like a shadow upon the stairs. He, though, looked far from frightened. The sudden appearance of a stranger in his house only made the man pause, his face expressionless. For a moment, their eyes locked.
“Stay there, Doctor Uhland,” commanded Brian, his other hand unconsciously clutching his bandaged side. “I don’t want to hurt you. But I’ll use this if I have to.”
Josh, about ten steps up, grabbed the railing of the carpeted stairway with one hand. He blinked twice. “You’re that student, aren’t you? The one that’s been giving us the problems.”
“That’s me,” said Brian, icily. “But your problems aren’t over. Turn around and open the front door. I’ll be right behind you. And keep those hands where I can see them!”
Josh carefully turned his back on the intruder. “I don’t have your girlfriend or your son, Mister Minor,” he said.
“Oh, I know. But you’re going to help us retrieve them.”
“Us?” Josh said. Brian poked the gun into Josh’s back as they got off the stairs and approached the front door. He saw an alarm keypad next to the door.
“Yes. Inactivate the alarm first, will you? And then open the door.”
“Alarm’s already off. You set it with however you got in upstairs.” Josh kept cool. Brian thought the German would pounce away at any moment, forcing him to fire.
Josh opened the heavy wooden door and allowed in Montgomery, who closed the door behind him.
“Good work, my boy!” the older man said, patting Brian on the back.  In his fervor he almost knocked over Josh’s entryway vase.
Josh stared at the new visitor. “Carson Montgomery! But you’re—”
“Infected?” broke in Montgomery. “Sure. But it seems your controls were lost on me, doctor.”
Josh’s face squished up in confusion and, possibly, anger. Again, the phones rang throughout the house. They heard a more intense beeping coming from Josh’s cell attached to his jeans belt. Brian pressed the pistol hard into Josh’s back.
“Even if you give the wrong password, doc, we’ll be long gone before the police arrive.” Josh unclasped his cell and answered, shooting Brian a perplexed look. “Yes,” he said. “Right. Only a damn, fat cat. Must have misjudged a jump going after a bird. Broke the fucking glass! Uh, huh. Fahrvegnugen. Okay. Thanks. ‘Night.”
“Time to get into the car, Doctor Uhland,” said Montgomery, who grabbed Josh’s arm forcefully. “I believe you have a place to show us.”
Josh raised his eyebrows. “Can I get my wallet and keys?”
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll need those . . . unless the lab requires keycard access?” Montgomery smiled mischievously.
“It does,” said Brian. “And he needs a key to get in the front door.” They followed Josh, who seemed surprised by Brian’s knowledge, while he retrieved the items from the living room, its soft-looking black-leather sofa flanked by two halogen lights. A large plasma screen stretched across the wall opposite the sofa, with three or four speakers dotting corners of the room. Brian admired a large fish tank along one wall, its bright colors in sharp contrast to all the black in the room.
“Well, shall we?” Montgomery again dragged Josh away and led him to the car across the lawn and down the road. Brian followed.
After they had gotten in the car, with Brian and Josh in back, Josh said, “What do you hope to accomplish? We can’t just turn off the switch, you know.”
“What do you mean?” said Brian, sticking the gun into the computer scientist without thinking. He feared the technology irreversible, that Amber and his friends would be forever stuck with the computers attached to their heads.
Josh smiled, looking more confident now that he knew his captures didn’t have much of a plan. “Your friends. Even Doctor Montgomery here. They’ve been inoculated. No going back.”
Montgomery turned and looked hard at Josh in the back seat. “I don’t believe you, computer man. You can turn it off.”
Josh only shrugged and huffed.
They sat in silence while Montgomery led them to the lab. Brian finally broke in. “Why are you doing it?” he directed toward Josh. “Is it the money?”
Josh laughed. “No, boy. I could be making much more money in any one of a hundred private labs around the world.” He paused and then continued. “No. It’s Doctor Kevill’s purpose, don’t you see? He has a beautiful design, a design I’ve helped him put to reality. I believe strongly in Doctor Kevill’s work.”
“Tell him what you think, Hue,” whispered Montgomery from the front.
“Hue?” mouthed Josh.
Brian ignored the discrepancy. “But he’s . . . you’re changing people’s thoughts against their wills. You don’t see anything wrong with that?”
Josh sat smugly. “If it means a more peaceful, a more healthy world, so be it. And I’m sure many will end up donating to our cause, too.”
“Just as long as you aren’t infected by your own medicine, huh, doc?” countered Brian.
“Maybe.” And Josh shut up like he wouldn’t be fielding any more questions, at least for now.
“More healthy?” chimed in Montgomery. Brian noticed they were almost to the lab. “You call a bunch of super-powered automatons healthy? It’s our ability to process and adapt—on our own—that makes us so strong! More healthy world. Humph!” Again, the older man shook his head like he was trying to dislodge some water from his ears.
As they approached the lab’s lot, Brian told Montgomery to park the car a little bit away, down the street, in case Daka or Kevill decided to make a late-night visit and also to throw off any campus police. He did so, and, as the trio made their way by foot to the lab, a ringing came from Josh’s cell again.
Brian again pressed the gun into the computer scientist. “Answer it, but don’t talk for long.”
“Hello?” said Josh, not bothering to activate the cell’s camera and video abilities. “Yes, Doctor Barnes. So nice to hear from you. Uh, huh. Tomorrow is the big day. Yes.” Josh looked suspiciously at his companions. “Yes. I expect all inoculants to be there as well. Everything goes as scheduled. Uh, huh. Okay, doctor. See you then. Bye.”
“Who was that?” said Brian.
Josh stared straight ahead. “Oh, our government sponsor. He’s coming to take a look at operations tomorrow. That’s all.”
The information created a plan in Brian’s head. All of the inoculants? That meant Amber, Jackie, Carol, Mike. Wilson? Oh, Wilson, I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you!
They made their way into the lab with Josh’s key and alarm code. Brian thought Montgomery looked crazy enough to kill Josh and himself if the wrong numbers were punched and the police showed. They walked across the large first floor full of computers and other machines and entered the lab’s elevator with Josh’s keycard. All inoculants? Brian repeated in his head. So everyone will be here. Tomorrow. But what about tonight?
They exited the elevator to the bottom floor’s main hallway. Josh hit the low, blue-tinged lights, showing Brian and Montgomery a white-painted basement, a few doors showing off the hall in front of them. He moved to lead them down the hall before Montgomery stopped the German with an outstretched arm. “Forgetting something?”
Josh paused and then looked at the control panel next to the elevators. “The abilities of your internal processors surprise even me at times.” He inserted his keycard in the panel to complete the elevator circuit.
“I know more than you think,” stated Montgomery.
Josh led them down the hall to the floor’s main office, its metal table with inset computer and its large window looking out upon the pillar of light in the main lab area.
Both Brian and Montgomery stared at the light beam in wonder. “What’s that?” said Brian.
“Where we manufacture the nanites,” said Josh matter-of-factly. He turned to the men, crossed his arms, and asked, “Now, gentlemen, what do you propose we do now?”
Montgomery stepped forward with a speed Brian didn’t think possible and grabbed Josh’s arm roughly. The younger man tried to pull away and stared into the older man’s eyes. “What?”
“Open up your computer network here, doctor,” said Montgomery. “I almost feel I could do it myself with all these new thoughts that I’ve been having, but I guess it’s better if you access the system instead.”
“Okaaaay,” said Josh.  He pushed a button to activate the desk’s computer, typed in a password, and even brought up Montgomery’s file. “Doctor Carson Montgomery,” he read. “Social psychologist. Age seventy-three. In good health by these readings. Steady pressure and heart rate. Though you do seem a little agitated at the present.” Josh didn’t mention that Montgomery’s readings also showed a steady decline in his quantum rates.
Montgomery studied his picture and the readings on the screen. It was as if he had finally achieved a proof of what had been happening to him. “Yes. Okay. Well then. I guess, Doctor Uhland, it is time for you to take a little nap.” From somewhere, Montgomery had produced a small needle and syringe, which he quickly pressed into Josh’s arm close to where he had been holding onto the man. 
Josh looked at the doctor with surprise and fear. “What’s that?” he said, squirming to feel where the needle had entered his arm. The German grabbed his cell from his jeans pocket.
“Just a sleeping draught. Until tomorrow then?” And Montgomery slapped the cell phone from Josh’s hand and cushioned Josh’s fall as the man fell to the floor.
“Where did you get that?” said Brian, finally lowering the gun and sticking it again in his jeans.
“Oh, just something I’ve kept around since some work I did at the mental institution a while back.”
“Oh.” Brian prodded Josh with his foot. “He’ll really be out until tomorrow?”
“Basically.” The old man turned to Brian and smiled his goofy smile. “Now then, Hue. Let’s see what’s in this computer. We have some work to do before tomorrow when all the chickens come to roost.”

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