The Torus Project

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

Chapter 5 (v.1)

Submitted: February 04, 2011

Reads: 55

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Submitted: February 04, 2011

A A A

A A A

Chapter 5
1:37 p.m., Wednesday
Brian spent the next week studying for Kevill’s and a few other finals, continuing to drop Wilson off at daycare to get personal time. During one lonely afternoon, Mike broke Brian’s boring pattern.
“Hello?” Brian sat back on his ragged couch, pushing the video button to look at whoever was on the other end. He felt portable videophones were nice because he could see facial expressions, the emotions behind the words; they were also a pain if you didn’t hold the devices fairly steady while talking. The on-board camera programming focused on human faces, whether they moved or not, but quick movements here and there still made Brian a bit dizzy.
“Look, man, I don’t know what you had me search for, but there’s something strange about your request.” Even with the distraction of his carrot-top hair, Mike’s face was noticeably red on Brian’s tiny LCD cell screen.
“What are you talking about?” Brian held the phone close to his face.
“The nanotechnology stuff you had me look into! Remember? On Sunday?” Mike’s voice was hushed, frantic.
“Right, right. Sorry. Been busy with finals and forgot. So you get me a good list?” Brian ignored Mike’s behavior and smiled.
“Well, that’s just the thing. I plugged in my code and did a search. Lo and behold.” He passed a hand in front of the cell phone’s camera. “There pops up our Doctor Kevill’s name. So, you know, I click it for more details, but the screen went all crazy on me, locking up the computer.”
“So why the spy stuff, man? Why do you look so freaked?” Brian felt a tinge on the back of his neck, like something was wrong but he couldn’t put a finger on it.
“They came down on me not thirty minutes after the search!” Mike now pushed the cell’s camera for a close-up on his face, making one of his eyes fill the screen on Brian’s end before pulling it away again. “I don’t know how they knew, but my supervising grad student, the psych chair even . . . I had to meet with them in the office!” Mike was normally a little wired, but he was also a top-notch student all-and-all; Brian had never heard him talk about problems before . . . at least not with his studies.
“Sorry, dude. I . . . I didn’t want to get you in trouble.” From the background, Brian gathered his friend to be at home. Mike kept looking off camera, pushing his face away and close again.
“No big deal,” Mike said. “The grad student got the brunt. I played dumb and said I was interested in my senior project on such-and-such search terms and wanted to find professors who were into the stuff, just like you said.”
“Good idea.”
“So I don’t have the access anymore, but that’s about it.”“Are you sure?”
“Well.” Mike took a deep breath. “I can’t shake this feeling that I’m being watched. Strange, huh?”
“I’d say.”
Mike paused a few seconds. Brian picked up a car passing by outside Mike’s apartment through his cell. “Can you meet me at Sam’s?” he said, almost begging.
“Now?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, I’ve got a final tonight I’m studying for. How about you come here?”
“Might sound weird, but I don’t want to show your place to whoever’s watching me.”
“Are you losing it, Mike?” Brian couldn’t believe Mike’s little search could mean anything more than being banned access.
“Does kinda sound like it, huh? No, if you can just spare an hour . . . I have some more information to tell you about . . . what I found.”
“What?”
“Can’t tell you now.”
“All right.”
“In an hour?”
“Okay. An hour’s fine. See you then.”
 
#
 
Sam’s was pretty dead at three o’clock, so Mike’s bike chained out front and his bold yellow shirt at a window booth were easy to spot. Why wear that, Brian thought, if someone is stalking you?
The low music, the wooden décor of the place, and Sam himself wiping down the bar while watching a TV game show refreshed Brian during his daily studies.
“Thanks for making it,” Mike said. Brian noticed his friend clutched a handheld computer and was drinking a dark brew. His eyes darted past Brian as he entered.
“Little early to be hitting the beer, isn’t it, Mike?” Brian sat down, told the waitress he didn’t want anything.
“Oh, just a little refresher. It’s been a long day already.”
“All that meeting and computer stuff happened just today?”“I didn’t have access to the database until this morning. That’s when I did your search.” He took a gulp of beer and turned his computer toward Brian, revealing a small screen full of names and dates.
“What’s this?”
“Well,” Mike said, taking a moment to scan the bar, even going so far as to look outside. “When I initially did your search, I also had my research project computations up on a separate window at the same time.”
“Uh, huh.” Brian found himself looking at Mike’s handheld. Like most, it was made of plastic and could also be used as a cell phone. Rows of small buttons adorned its faceplate, with a ten by ten-centimeter LCD screen above them. Digital and wireless, Brian loved the portable computer’s abilities to keep information and connect to other computers at the same time.
“And I did those figures while the search ran, switching over to the search window after a few minutes. The computer froze, like I told you, so I rebooted. That’s when I ran across this information.” He scrolled down through a file on the small computer, showing more names and dates.
“I thought you said only Kevill popped up and you couldn’t get any further with his file?”
“Right. But I also told you that the screen went all crazy, too. Well, for some reason my initial search threw out a list of nanotechnology projects—not just around here but worldwide. A list that was thrown into my research project’s database. Don’t ask me. I don’t know enough about computers. I guess I hit the wrong number. I only recognized it after the meeting with the psych chair, and that’s when I downloaded this stuff off. Here.”
He shoved the computer and its contents over to Brian, all too willing to get rid of the thing. “Just scroll down to see the length of this list!”
Brian took the computer in his hands. “Worldwide! Why would your access code give you a list of names and projects worldwide?”
“Beats the hell outta me,” Mike said, taking another slug of beer and looking outside again. “I didn’t look at it too closely, but there seems to be a number of government-related projects and grants listed.”
Brian skimmed the list, organized alphabetically by project name. He had actually heard of a few people and places listed from his research of the past weekend, big names like M.I.T., Harvard, The Japan Institute of Nanotechnology and important people in the field. Many projects, though, were unknown to Brian—and, indeed, he did notice some were listed as “Government Contract”, with these mostly attached to universities across the country.
And Brian knew about government classified from clearance levels in his Air Force experience. He knew, too, not to mess with things labeled as such.
“Hmm . . . And you still have a copy of this list on your research database?”
Mike jumped back at the suggestion. “Oh, no! I wiped that all out of there!” He leaned over and popped out a plastic disc drive about the size of a child’s pinky finger. “But I did save it to this!” 
“You’re the man, Mike!” Brian said, taking the flash drive from his friend and plugging it into his own handheld.
An awkward silence hung over them, Mike looking out the window, biting a nail, Brian actually starting to believe his friend that something more sinister was going on.
“So you really think someone is following you because of this list?” Brian said. “How come?”
“Well, it’s just this.” Another drink of beer, all but finishing off the mug. “After being scolded by the psych chair, I went back to my computer, and there was this guy hanging around the office, a dude I’ve never seen before.” Mike looked around again. “I asked this guy if I could help him, and he said in a confident way, ‘No, that’s all right.’ Then he slowly walked away . . . Well, I finished my work and went to get some lunch when I noticed this same guy in the parking lot hanging around my bike. He saw me and walked away again.”
“What did he look like, Mike?”
“Let’s see. About 40, definitely African decent with dark, black skin . . . he had this funky outfit on, you know, like real colorful, the type, I guess, they wear in Africa or something.”
“Big?”
“No, not really. Looked to be in shape, though, if you know what I mean. Toned-out, muscular.”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence, Mike. Have you seen him since?”
“Not directly.” Mike hunkered down in his booth, whispering. The scene caught the attention of both Sam and his waitress.
“Not directly?”
“Well, every time I see that color display he was wearing, bright yellows and greens and reds, I think it might be him . . . like he’s following me.” 
Brian thought, Well, with those colors, don’t look in your closet, Mike. “Ah, I think you’re just nervous, dude!” Brian slugged Mike on the shoulder and stood up. “I really appreciate the information, and I’m sorry you got in trouble. Also, thanks for the advice about Amber and my wife the other day. You’re right. One day at a time. See you Friday for Kevill’s final?”
Mike looked a little surprised the meeting was over so soon. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be there.”
Brian saw the concern on Mike’s face. “Hey, don’t look so down.”
“Gotcha. Nothing to worry about.”
 
#
 
9:30 a.m., Friday
Kevill’s final came soon enough. Brian actually wasn’t worried about this test as much as the others, though. He had kept up in class, studying persistently. Hell, he had hung on about every word from Dr. Kevill’s mouth. So the exam itself didn’t scare Brian; what did bring a lump to his throat was his intention to face Kevill again about the memory and beliefs homework question of last week and—now that Mike had found him on the nanotechnology list—a possible senior project of psychology and nanotechnology. He just hoped that his favorite teacher would consent to be his sponsor.
But all Brian’s trepidation in meeting Kevill turned to new nervousness once he realized Mike had not shown up for the test. At first, he thought that Mike was just being Mike, running late, but, as the test continued, he knew something was wrong. Eye contact with Jackie solidified his view, so, as soon as he had taken the test, instead of catching a word with Dr. Kevill, Brian stepped into the hall to use his cell.
He only received Mike’s message. Thoughts of athletic black men in colorful outfits spun through Brian’s mind. Maybe he was being followed. Maybe I should have paid more attention. Jackie found him in the hall, her perky skirt and top outfit at odds with the frown on her face.
“What the hell happened to Mike? Kevill isn’t one to give make-ups, you know!”
“Tell me about it.” Brian steered Jackie back from where more students were leaving the auditorium. “I just called his cell but only got a message.”
“Where the hell is he?” Jackie usually didn’t get so upset, but Mike was a close friend. And she didn’t like a friend to miss such an important date. “When’s the last time you talked to him, Bri?”
“Wednesday, actually . . .” Brian lowered his tone a bit and drug Jackie further into a out-of-the-way alcove. “Look, Jack. I didn’t want to involve you in this, but Mike was all batty that day. He’d run a search for me on department computers and got caught.”
“Got caught?” She placed a well-manicuredhand on Brian’s shoulder.
“The chair severed his access . . . that’s about it, Jackie. But later that day . . . Wednesday . . . he told me someone was following him. He caught this guy poking around his computer station and his bike.”
“Really?”
“I guess so. I didn’t take it to mean much at the time . . . just a coincidence, but now I’m not so sure.Look, do you have to go to work or anything?”
“In a few hours. Why?”
“Could you go to Mike’s apartment and check it out? Call me on my cell once you do. I’m going to Montor and look at his area . . . see if, for some odd reason, he got into his research and forgot about the test.”
“And forgot about his cell?” She tilted her head and frowned.
“Well, that, too.”
“Let’s go,” Jackie said.
Looking back in the auditorium, Brian could have sworn Dr. Kevill was staring at him. He felt a chill, his mind confused about what had been before and what was happening now.
The pair split up to find their friend.
 
#
 
It didn’t take long for Brian to make his way up to Montor Hall. As he had a week ago, he passed the aging statue of father psychology and proceeded into the formidable front doors. This time, though, he took the main stairs to the third floor, going left instead of right, which would have taken him again to Dr. Kevill’s abode. Brian had visited his friend in Montor, but Mike changed areas periodically, so he asked a secretary if she had seen him that day. The answer was “no”, but she did point to where Mike worked. 
Behind an unmarked door, Brian found a few computer stations, a collapsible table, and an adjoining room used for Mike’s experiments. But no Mike. He even looked in a storage closet in case his friend was cavorting with a freshman but to no avail. The suite was clean. Even a two-way mirror showed only empty space in a next-door room.
As Brian exited Mike’s area and looked up the third-floor hall, he was shocked. Coming up the stairs were Dr. Kevill and an athletic black man conversing in whispers. An athletic-looking black man in a colorful outfit. Neither saw Brian, so he darted back.
Is that the same guy Mike was talking about? With Doctor Kevill? Suddenly, Brian felt his world spinning. Cold sweat hit his side. What is going on?
He peeked around the door jam and saw the pair entering Kevill’s office to the other side of the staircase. Military training had taught Brian to be cool under pressure, to think and act appropriately, but never did he think such a situation would hit him in the middle of Montor Hall. This was his place of escape from a military past. This new life was supposed to be away from any physical training and, especially, any cues concerning his wife. But the teacher he most respected, a search on the computer, and now Mike missing. Brian looked back at Mike’s empty computer station and felt more sweat trickle down the inside of his shirt. Could he and his friends have accidentally stumbled into something they shouldn’t have?
He snuck into the hall. Okay, he thought, Doctor Kevill or his friend don’t have a reason to suspect me of finding his name associated with the government . . . unless that man followed Mike to Sam’s and Mike to me? But maybe Doctor Kevill just knows that guy anyway. Yeah, he thought. Mike’s probably got a hangover at his apartment and overslept. It’s now or never to talk to Kevill in any case. Summer break. Won’t see him for almost a month!
Brian straightened his back, raised his chin, and proceeded to walk toward Kevill’s office. But what if? What if Mike’s gotten into something over his head? He stopped and looked down the staircase, thinking to exit the building before either man emerged from imposing office 309 just a few paces down the hall.


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