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

Chapter 37 (v.1)

Submitted: February 15, 2011

Reads: 57

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Submitted: February 15, 2011

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Chapter 37
Noon, Friday
Everyone gathered downstairs in the main lab. Brian had been taken first, then Wilson, then Madalene and Josh. He couldn’t understand it. His friends, Ms. Baker, they all acted like robots, hardly anexpression between them. Yes, he knew of their link, Kevill’s control, but Brian couldn’t believe the professor could totally cut off Amber’s feelings, Jackie’s and Mike’s so easily. Their hands grabbed him like he was nothing but a package, his wounds not treated tenderly. Wilson, too, he saw was picked up by Dr. Romber and that other older man with the glasses. “Dad!” he yelled, but Brian could do nothing. Madalene cried. Josh was passive, removed. The lab became small with the seventeen people circled around the once-active beam of light.
“How did you turn them so, Herr Doctor?” Josh said, his arms crossed. Both Dr. Nelson and Ms. Baker flanked the German in case he started any trouble, their faces blank. Brian kept looking for some sign of emotion from any of his friends, especially from Amber, but nothing. She had smiled when entering, but Kevill had pressed his computer and then all had become quite different.
“The link, Josh. The link.” Kevill stood on top of the shallow, metal pedestal that once beamed the nanites upward toward the ceiling. He panted, evidently affected more by Madalene’s nanite injection than he had let on. Pointing his handheld around the room and smiling, he said, “Oh, but you’re of a different strain, aren’t you? We sense each other but, somehow, are not linked, are we?”
“No, I guess not” was all Josh said in reply.
“No,” Kevill echoed, pressing a button on his small computer that made all the inoculants except him and Josh cry out in pain and, quickly, resume their blank stares. Brian had difficulty seeing his friends’ faces so quickly change back and forth. “I’ve tied into this computer, my friend. And this computer ties us all together. Just like the Torus, you see?”
“But the control,” pressed Josh.
“Yes, the control. So difficult before, wasn’t it? Amber running about telling stories, fighting our controls. But, you see, we underestimated the link. The link is the key!” He pressed another button, and the group—Amber, Mike, Romber, Nelson, Jackie, Carol, Fratameier, Ms. Baker, and the four other ladies—they all laughed for three or four seconds before stopping again, again becoming as mannequins in a store window.
“You guessed it, Mister Minor. I have eroded. I was hit by an unrefined batch back when her father died.” He pointed the handheld at Amber, who stood, lips parted, staring straight ahead. “But that very batch gave me insight and power! And now we have power! Power to change the world! I see that so clearly now that all are here!
“Maybe my personality had been . . . affected by events. Funny I didn’t notice before. This last inoculation, though. A boost, maybe? Just the thing I needed. I feel I am in all their heads now!”
Kevill closed his eyes for a moment and Carol left the group, went to the lab’s office, and returned with three of the fifty or so silver, figure-eight necklaces that had rested on the room’s small pedestal. Passionless, she handed them over to Kevill and resumed her place around the circle of inoculants and inoculants to be.
“Josh, you can still be with us.” He outstretched his hand with pendants dangling down. “Come. Place them around their necks.”
Brian, still held securely by Romber, Jackie, and Mike, shook his head and kept a close eye on his son, who was kept by Amber. Madalene, standing with mascara down her cheeks across from Brian, said, “No, you can’t, Josh. No!”
The German scratched his head. “What choice do we have, really? They outnumber us. I have no option.”
“The voice of reason,” said Kevill. Brian noticed his professor was sweating on the forehead, his breath still elevated. “Here. Put them around their necks.” And Josh took the three pendants from Kevill, going first to Madalene, who put up a big struggle, taking four people to keep her steady, then to Brian, who didn’t struggle much after Romber found his bullet-hole sweet spot, and, finally, to Wilson, who just looked up at his dad with fear and a question in his eyes.
“Excellent. You know the plan, Josh. You designed it. Go to the main computer and release the nanites in each necklace. I want to see their faces. I want to feel the transition from the inside!”
“Andy! Why? Not me, dear,” Madalene begged, straining against her captors. “I am on your side!”
Kevill barely looked her way. “Oh, you will be. You will be. Do it, Josh. I especially look forward to seeing this one squirm and feeling his mind.” He approached Brian and poked him in the chest with his computer. “You’ll like being so close to your lover Amber over there and your son anyway, huh? A whole new level.”
Josh took in the situation, turned, and went to the office lab. Brian soon saw him through the glass wall that separated the rooms, saw the holo-display hovering above the table, signifying the computer had been accessed. If only I had computer access, Montgomery’s handheld.
Kevill stood a meter in front of him, staring at him, smiling a wicked smile, his eyes bloodshot and thin. Only moments before I’m infected? Brian thought. And Wilson? And that Madalene lady? All this to lose . . . to him? He wanted to break free and pounce on his professor. He wanted to stop the madness, but strong hands prevented him, hands that before had helped—Jackie, Romber, Mike, their faces now blank, impervious to his condition and fate.
“Jackie! Break out of it!” he yelled into his friend’s face. “Mike! It’s me, Brian. Man, you can fight it!”
But nothing. Maybe a flinch or two. Kevill’s control seemed tight, the minds turned computer control. Brian looked at Wilson and back at their faces. He was about to make a final struggle to get free and rip the necklace off, hold his breath, something, when all the room’s inoculants suddenly screamed out in pain and fell to floor.
“What?” said Kevill. He looked through the wall glass at Josh. The German actually was smiling. “You, my friend, will pay for that!”
Only Wilson, Madalene, Kevill, and Brian himself now stood in the white-walled room, bodies laying about their ankles. It didn’t take him long to realize the change of events. Brian Minor charged at a confused Kevill, ramming his head into the man’s stomach and pushing him down to the floor, where both fell against an unconscious Mary Baker. Kevill’s handheld flew out of his grasp; Brian tried to get up and plant a few punches to his face.
Kevill wasn’t stupid, though. While temporarily pinned by Brian, he grabbed Brian’s bad arm and ribs, causing the student to cringe and allowing the professor to push himself to freedom. Madalene looked to be in shock and didn’t offer any help. Brian caught a glimpse of Wilson, too, and said, “Stand back, Wil!” Josh was nowhere to be seen.
Brian struggled to get up as Kevill headed straight to Wilson. “No!” cried Brian. Too late. His professor, now breathing very hard, a crazed look on his face, had enveloped his son in thick arms.
“Let’s see if this tiny necklace won’t release some of its spores into the child if I force it down his throat!” said Kevill, who ripped the pendant from a wailing Wilson’s neck and proceeded to try and push it into his mouth.
His wound reopened and bleeding, feeling ready to pass out from blood loss and lack of sleep, Brian fell into Kevill, not caring if his body suffered damage or not. His one good arm caught the professor only in the chest after Kevill moved, Wilson pushed away in the fight.
“You are wounded, Brian Minor!” said Kevill. He took both of his chunky fists and threw them into Brian’s chest in turn, causing him to lose his breath and fall to the floor. Kevill stood over him, gloating. “Falling out of windows, fighting with Daka. You’ve had a busy time of it.”
Brian grabbed for Kevill’s legs, but the professor kicked the weak attempt out of the way. “You’re done, student. Give up.”
“Wilson, no!” Brian said. Wilson attached himself to one of Kevill’s legs and bit him through the pants. The professor yelped and threw the boy away and to the feet of Madalene, who still stood in shock, her eyes covered in mascara streaks, hands beside her head. Wilson, dazed but okay, was not ready to repeat his attack.
Kevill looked over atBrian, blood trickling out of the student’s arm onto the white tile floor, and saw him gazing up at the professor with a mix of hatred and determination. “Well, well,” said Kevill. “I will now deal with Josh and reactivate our other friends. Don’t go anywhere.”
He turned to go to the office, and Brian saw Madalene walk up behind her lover. “Dear,” she said. He half-turned, surprise on his face. “No.” And Madalene planted what looked to be a hair pin full into Kevill’s chest.
“Ah!” He fell back, grasping at her arm, but Madalene pulled away. He fell, fell, so like Daka of the night before, Brian thought, out of control. With thepin sticking outfrom his chest, Kevill backtracked, tripped over Dr. Fratameier’s legs on the floor, and went full into the glass wall that separated the office from the main lab. His weight and inertia brought the whole thing down.
Glass rained on top of Kevill, who ended his fall on top of the office table and its computer. Brian could see the hologram wink out as Kevill’s body, face first, fell hard over the tabletop projection hole. So much glass, and, possibly, the professor’s weight also caused a chain reaction in some of the computer circuitry there, for within seconds sparks began to fly, a small fire had started up.
“Wilson!” Brian stood and drew his son close. Once knowing Wil was okay, he looked around and noticed the once-unconscious inoculants were coming awake. Kevill’s knocked out, so they’re free of him. Amber, Jackie, Carol, Mike, everyone raised their heads and began to move, look around, get up.
The office fire, though, began to spread. Smoke filled the room, and the overhead fire extinguishers had not clicked on. “Up and out, everyone!” said Brian. “Up and out! Fire, fire!”
Wilson by hand, Brian ran around the corner to check on Josh, but the computer scientist was nowhere to be seen. “Damn!” He tried to peek in and see Dr. Kevill, but the smoke was getting too thick.
“Brian? What happened?” said Jackie, pushing up behind him with the rest of them. “Where’s Doctor Kevill?”
“No time to explain! Get in the elevator. Now!”
It took them four trips, Wilson going first with Amber. And by the time Brian finally went up, the downstairs lab was covered in smoke, explosions being heard down the corridor. The elevator rose, and all he could think was Kevill was dead. Dead. The professor was dead.
The others had already left the first floor ahead of Brian when he arrived up top. He began to sprint to catch up, fearful the whole place would blow any second, when he remembered . . . Dr. Montgomery’s handheld. The computer with all the Project Torus information. Now that the original computer was destroyed, it was all that was left to help his friends. He had to return. Back down.
He entered the elevator and descended into smoke.
 
#
 
The slick, metallic elevator creaked as it went into the basement level. Brian heard the rumble of explosions as he hit the bottom and the doors parted. Where did I put it? he thought. Where is it?
Smoke filling his sight, Brian covered his face with his shirt and got down low, making his way as fast as possible to the first door of the corridor, the room in which he and Montgomery had stayed. Finding the knob was difficult, but he succeeded, coughing more and more, and flung it open. Working only by touch, he flailed his hand around in hopes of touching the small computer. But nothing. Time wasrunning out fast. He knew he had to leave before succumbing to smoke inhalation.
Brian stumbled out the door, thinking to make his way toward the main office but forgetting the idea. Maybe the government can help them. Maybe. Shit! I forgot about Barnes!
He ran toward the elevator and waited for it to open, coughing, his eyes filled with smoke. Finally, the doors parted, but before he could enter, a terrible, raspy voice whispered in his ear from behind.
“Looking for this.” Kevill. No. It couldn’t be Kevill. But it was. Brian turned and could only perceive the outline of his nemesis. The outline pushed, and they tumbled into the elevator as the doors closed again and both were carried up to the first floor.
Smoke filled the elevator as well. Brian didn’t say anything; he was too surprised. Kevill rasped again, coughed. Brian smelled charred flesh, sickening his stomach.
“I thought we could use this little handheld. I sense it had some nice info—” Kevill went into a cough attack. He pressed the computer against Brian’s chest until the elevator doors opened, when Brian snatched it and moved fast to the closet Barnes had been stowed the previous night.
“Wait,” said Kevill as Brian passed him into the main upstairs lab. He stopped and turned to look at his professor, who now didn’t look like his professor. Kevill was burned, badly. Clothes seared with flesh. His ponytail and most of the rest of his hair was gone; half his face was blackened, causing Kevill to droop at the mouth and one eye. Brian noticed one of the professor’s arms hung limp. The once-proud man had been turned to a walking zombie. “Wait,” he slurred.
And for one moment, Brian felt sorry for this man, Dr. Andrew Kevill, someone who had loved, someone who had dreamed. Maybe things would have been different. Maybe it wasn’t his fault and the technology accidentally infected his brain. But so much had happened to Brian since, so much due to this one man.
He turned, hearing the rumbles of further explosions underneath the floor, and ran toward Barnes. He opened the closet only to find Barnes gone, the belt he had used to secure the man last night loose and on the floor.
“Brian!” Amber touched his shoulder. “We have to get out of here! Brian!”
Brian stared at where Barnes had been; to him, the man was his last link to helping Amber and the others out. Josh gone, now Barnes gone. Kevill. I have to save Doctor Kevill to save my friends? The information is in his brain!
He turned to look in Amber’s eyes. “He’s up here, Amber. Kevill. He’s the only one who can help you now.”
“What?” Frowning, she hovered a finger over Brian’s wounded arm.
“Quick! We must find him!” And Brian ran back to the elevator again. The doors were closed. Kevill had disappeared. He looked around the lab but didn’t see the man. Now, smoke had started filtering up into the room. He pushed the elevator button.
“No, Brian! No!” Amber held him back with both hands. “You can’t go down there!”
“But he has to be back down there, Amber. He’s our only hope!”
“Not if you have to kill yourself. Come on! Quick! This whole place is about to go up!”
Brian held his ground for a few moments but remembered Wilson and the others. He remembered the computer in his hands, the one that contained all the data on the Torus Project. Maybe this will be enough, he thought. Maybe.
The two of them exited the building’s low-blue lighting to full sunlight. Everyone stood in the parking lot, and a campus police car screamed into the lot as Brian went to Wilson. Using the elevator without key cards at both ends must have triggered an alarm, he thought. Why didn’t the fire system work, though? Madalene stood beside Brian, crying. “I had to do it,” she said to no one in particular. “I couldn’t see it go on like this.” 
“For whatever it’s worth, lady,” he directed toward the still-weeping Madalene, “thanks.” Madalene looked up for a moment and gave Brian a strained smile.
 
#
 
Fire trucks were called, but the downstairs lab was all but destroyed by the time they got to the fire. Luckily, much of the upstairs equipment was preserved.
Brian received proper medical attention for his ribs, arm, head, and other minor scrapes. And he and his friends were painted by a story slowly developed—mainly by Drs. Romber and Fratameier—that everyone had been infected by a nanovirus, even the university president. Supposedly, they had helped to discover Drs. Kevill and Uhland’s plan, but a terrible accident had destroyed the lab that day, erasing all accounts of the project.
Interviews and investigations were conducted by the university. Strangely, Brian never once encountered a defense agent in connection with his knowledge. Also, due to his supposedly having the virus, Brian was absolved of his run-in with the police earlier and his jump through the window. He ended up turning the Torus Project data contained in Dr. Montgomery’s old handheld over to Dr. Romber. 
Kevill’s body had not been found. Neither had Dr. Uhland’s or Barnes’. Those actually with the virus—which Brian knew to be more than a simple virus but a whole, nefarious way to change someone’s concept of the world—were taken under Dr. Romber’s wing. Romber knew of quantum erosion. He was the expert. Over the summer, he put them (and himself) through tests to determine if they could become “normal” again.
Once, during that summer, Romber told Brian it was another “computer gone bad.” Just another computer, huh? Brian thought. People and computers. Data and control.
“Brains as quantum computers,” the computer scientist went on to say. “What a concept these guys had going. Connecting people like never before!”
“Are you sure you want to be cured?” said Brian.
Romber fell silent. “Well, it’s either that or I slowly go mad.”
Brian shared with Romber what Montgomery had told him, how the older man had fought off the Torus implants by accepting them.
“You know, that might be something,” Romber said. “Accepting. The technology’s already a part of me and mimics my natural brain chemistry. I wonder if I can’t reprogram myself somehow, use the technology instead of fighting it. 
“What do you mean?” said Brian.
“Yes, the quantum circuitry does have a degradation effect over time.” He fluffed his big moustache. “I wonder, though . . . can we approach this ‘cure’ holistically rather than trying to separate each nanite, purging it from our heads one at a time?”
Brian thought he grasped the concept. “Use our body’s natural healing powers to help?”
Romber beamed. “Maybe that is the trick. Thanks!”
And, somehow, it did work. Soon enough, Jackie, Carol, Mike, and all the rest were not so Torus-oriented any more, were more themselves again. Brian felt they would always remember the experience and be changed by the thoughts that had passed through them. And wouldn’t he be as well?
He spent more time with Amber and Wilson and realized that this was all he wanted . . . thoughts of them staying together, of him and her and Wilson being happy, content. A place. A life to make. Rebecca would be proud.
Kevill’s Torus world wasn’t in that picture at all. Kevill’s plan didn’t include the work of process, of making your life to live. Quick fixes. Connections and progress. The man had wanted to make the world better but, in himself, could not even keep alive the love right around him.
Beliefs. Brian remembered his psychology professor’s summer break homework—analyze a belief you have and try to understand where it is, where it comes from. Through his aches and pains, Brian felt the strong need to fulfill that homework even now, even after the role model of Andrew Kevill had been shattered. 
“No more boundaries,” he whispered to himself one day while watching Wilson play. “My three-pound universe.”
He reached up and grabbed his head with both hands, closed his eyes, and pictured his connection to his son, to his friends, to Amber and the world.
“Yes,” he muttered to himself again. “I can make things work. I believe what I want is right here. Every moment. Every day. My brain. My connection.”
He smiled to himself and resumed looking at his little world. There, through the unbroken clear glass of his eyes, Wilson’s eyes caught his. And Brian smiled. He knew . . . he felt . . . the promise of completion. The universe told him then that his life was a process. And through his struggles, he’d be damned if he wouldn’t make things work.


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