The Torus Project

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

Chapter 6 (v.1)

Submitted: February 06, 2011

Reads: 52

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 06, 2011



Chapter 6
10:15 a.m., Friday
Brian stood atop the third-floor staircase, wondering if he should bail out or push ahead to Dr. Kevill’s office. Leaving meant missing destiny in his book. Ever since quitting the Air Force and starting school, his original call to the military had faded away—bravery, adventure, seeing new worlds. If Mike really was in trouble, now was the time to find out. Jackie would call once she checked on Mike’s apartment. His professor had to be the destination—even if Kevill had company in his office. Now or never.
That’s when a familiar voice broadsided Brian from downstairs.
“Hey, Brian. What are you doing here? Checking out test scores?”
Amber. The sight startled Brian to say the least. She looked great in shorts and a tight-fitting blouse, but a red flag in his mind said he shouldn’t be looking at her at all.
“Uh, huh,” he stuttered, eyeing Dr. Kevill’s door but turning to face Amber. “I . . . I should be asking you the same thing. What’s a philosophy student doing in the psych building?”
Her eyes darted to the right, toward Kevill’s door. “We are allowed to take classes outside our field, aren’t we?”
“I guess so! I don’t remember you mentioning a psych class this semester. That’s all.” He headed down to greet her.
“I was checking my scores and saw you. Thought I’d surprise you.”
“Well, you did.” Brian felt sweat on his forehead.
“So where are youheaded? Or would you rather get the bad news in peace?” She focused on her shiny-white tennis shoes, her eyes avoiding contact with Brian’s.
Brian placed a hand on Amber’s arm, his face serious. “Look, Amber. Have you seen my friend Mike? You know, the one at Sam’s last weekend?”
A flicker of recognition. “Nope. Sorry. Why? Did you guys have a date or something?”
“Hardly! Just trying to find him. He missed a final this morning, which concerns me . . . not like the guy at all.” Brian stared up for a moment at a large, oval light above the staircase. Old fashioned, he thought. With a real light bulb. Rounded, glowing, it resembled a huge eye looking down upon him.
“Ditched a final, eh?” Amber leaned against one of the wrought-iron banisters, allowing a backpack-laden student to pass. “Not cool.”
“No. Especially for Doctor Kevill’s class.”
The name seemed to punch Amber in the side. Her foot slipped off one of the stairs, and she barely caught herself before falling.
“Watch out! These psych floors are known for their shine.” Brian placed a hand on her back, examining her closely for the first time. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, the darn flu hit me a few days ago, right when I least needed it! I’m better now . . . just a little weak.”
“Sorry to hear that.” He put his arm around her shoulder and helped her to the third-floor landing. “Sorry I didn’t call this week, too. Been swamped with studies, you know.” Brian scrunched his face up, scratching his head.
“That’s okay.” She poked at her figure-eight pendant. “I wouldn’t have been too great of company anyway.”
“Did you make it through your finals okay?”
Kevill and his dark companion exited room 309 down the hall. The men halted, staring at the students for a few seconds, before Kevill pointed to Brian. “Ah, Mister Minor, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir.”
Kevill didn’t give Amber a second look.
“I’m sorry, but the finals are hardly graded yet.” Kevill and his friend halted a few meters away. Brian noticed his professor, still dressed in slacks and a dress shirt from class, had a handheld computer stuffed in a front pocket. He gripped a small leather briefcase. His friend wore a loose, colorful shirt and khaki pants with sandals. Upon closer inspection,Brian knew he had never seen the black man before; the man looked out of place in Montor Hall.
“I know, Doctor Kevill.” Brian chuckled. “I’m just up here looking for a friend.”
“Ah, friends,” Kevill said, looking at Amber as if for the first time. His smile quickly vanished. “They are such treasures, are they not? Now, if you’ll excuse us, Mister Minor. And good luck hunting!”
Kevill and friend proceeded down the stairs, but the second brush off by his idol in so many weeks stirred Brian. Memory and beliefs. Beliefs and memory. Clarity. He needed clarity. Maybe he would never know the why behind Rebecca’s death, but here, now, he felt like gaining more control over his life. A tug at his stomach . . . he wasn’t about to lose the man—his connection—for another three weeks until summer session started.
Brian hurried down the stairs, taking two at a time to get ahead of Kevill, who was startled mid-way between levels two and three. His colleague took a defensive posture of sorts, fists up, legs spread in a boxing pose.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I didn’t want to . . . ah . . . miss you again.”
“It’s nice to be missed, Mister Minor. What can I do for you?” The black man eased, but Kevill’s demeanor had changed, was not so open or kind.
Brian gulped and pushed on. “Well, I’ve been doing some research—“
“A good occupation.” Kevill glanced at his escort and at his watch.
“—research into nanotechnology and psychology.” Behind him, Brian heard Amber gasp.
Kevill paused, blinked. “Oh, an interesting combination, Mister Minor! What caused you to choose such a match?”
Brian didn’t expect queries so fast. He had just wanted to see if Dr. Kevill would oversee his senior project. He could hardly share overhearing Kevill himself talking about the topic, though, nor the link Mike had found between Kevill and a government-funded nanotechnology project on campus.
“Well, nanotechnology’s such a hot topic,” he gushed. “And, being a psych major, I thought I could put them together in my senior project—“
“A great idea!” Kevill broke in. “And I would be a proctor of sorts, right?” A sinister look crossed Kevill’s face. His mouth drew tight; eyes closed on his subject. “Yet why me? Have to bet Hamilton or Reeves would be better with their artificial intelligence and computer backgrounds.”
Brian felt smaller than he was. He knew Kevill and Amber and Kevill’s friend were all staring at him, listening to every word. That old-fashioned light above the stairs, that eye in the sky, now became a weight, pushing him down. Nervousness got the better of him, and he blurted out, “Oh, because I heard you were into the field as well as psychology.”
A prolonged silence from Kevill while he slowly adjusted his ponytail.
“Heard, huh? Mister Minor, where would you have heard such a thing as that?” His dark-blue eyes bore into Brian so much that he felt pinned even though the whole second floor, the first, the rest of campus was behind him. He couldn’t help but retreat a few steps, nearly bumping into an ascending student.
“I . . . uhm . . . heard it from a friend.”
“Friends.” Dr. Kevill began descending the stairs again, brushing past Brian so that only he could hear the next, whispered words. “I would be careful of friends, Minor. You seek them; you listen to them. But, in the end, only you can know what is right and wrong.
“Come, Daka,” Kevill said. “We’ve a meeting to attend . . . And, Mister Minor, please see me when classes resume. I would be glad to discuss your senior project in more detail . . . though, as you know, my personal interests lay more cognitive psychology, not in the fanciful world of small computer parts.”
Brian stood dumbstruck, like he had discovered a thriving civilization on the dark side of the moon.
“Ah, yes, sir.” He composed himself and extended a hand.Dr. Kevill responded with a short, up-and-down shake. “Thanks!”
Kevill and Daka exited the stairwell, leaving Brian standing rigidly and Amber looking flustered.
“What was that about?” she said, turning to leave. “Those guys give me the creeps!”
Brian bit a nail. “Oh, Doctor Kevill? He’s really pretty harmless, I guess. I just needed to catch him about a question.” Brian felt numb from Kevill’s intimate words. He was sure Mike didn’t lie about the professor’s relationship to nanotechnology. He also didn’t have reason to doubt Mike on Kevill’s companion, now that he had seen—what was his name?—Daka in the flesh. But why would Doctor Kevill lie about his research? What was so secretive about the project anyway? The government?
Brian’s cell beeped, telling him Jackie was at Mike’s apartment.
“Yeah,” he answered. The sound brought Amber back up the stairs again. Brian leaned on the railing to ground himself and position the video camera for a look at Jackie’s face.
“Not here, Bri.” She looked worried—her eyebrows curved inward, and lines crossed her forehead. Not like her. Brian knew Jackie, though somewhat hyper, had a cool head on her shoulders and usually stayed calm. “I knocked and knocked, but no one answered.”
“And I don’t guess Mike has a girlfriend we don’t know about?”
“Heck, you’re his guy friend. He definitely wouldn’t tell me if he was sleeping around!” She thumbed back her hair and sighed.
“How about we meet at Sam’s in an hour. Maybe he’ll have called by then.”
“No go. Gotta work,” Jackie said. She pouted through the video link.
“Sure.” Brian looked at Amber, not wanting to get her too bored with his stuff. “Well, Amber and I will hang out at Sam’s for a bit and see if he calls or shows, and then—”
“—Amber! Is she with you?”
“Hi, Jackie,” Amber said.
“I met her on the way to find Mike.” Brian usually put in an earpiece to mute video conversations or turned off the mini-camera but had forgotten this time.
“Okay. Well, call me or come by my work if you find the dork. Tell him he’s got me too worried!”
“Will do, Jack. Later.”
“Bye.” Her picture clicked off.
Amber moved up and squeezed Brian’s shoulders. “So does that mean you just invited me out on a date?”
“I guess so.” He smiled. “You got the time?”
“Plus, I’ve got some interesting stuff to tell you. Almost like a little mystery here on our campus.”
Amber brushed back her hair and smiled. “You don’t say?”
2:50 p.m., Friday
“Josh, meet Daka.” Kevill and the two men stood in the main lab office, making the room shrink withtheir presence. Josh, bleary-eyed from a late night on the project, extended a hand, the two exchanging a fierce grip.
“Daka here will be our new inoculant administrator.” Kevill eyed the two, knowing well that the first meeting would be somewhat of a clash of wills. “I know, Josh, you need more time on the systems side of things. And Madalene and myself can hardly plant the devices plus carry on our outward teaching roles. Thus, the need for another team member to speed along the process, as we discussed.”
Josh crossed his arms and leaned against the wall opposite the door. “Speeding the process, Herr Doctor, not another member. We never discussed that.” His voice was tense, guarded.
Kevill only smiled and sat down. “Yes, but we have two priorities now. One, continue feeding the D-O-D what they want but without much alacrity. That’s your department, Josh. Two, spreading our meme as quickly as possible through this campus community. Daka will assist there. Are we in agreement with that?”
“I guess, Doctor Kevill,” Josh said. He scratched his short-cut scalp and eyed the new team member. “But what’s his background. I need to know that at least. You are . . . how do you say? . . . springing this on me.”
“But, of course. Here!” Kevill presented Josh a disc, which he inserted in the office’s computer. A holo readout popped up above the table, showing Daka’s picture and bio.
“Aged forty-one,” read Kevill, “born in Nairobi, twelve years in the Kenyan military, fighting in various conflicts around that region. At thirty, he went freelance in explosives, particularly computer-enhanced detonation. This made his services popular with various tribal wars across Africa at first and, later, in Europe, Asia, the Middle East—”
“—He’s a fucking mercenary?” Josh said. “Look, Andrew, one of the reasons I joined your project was that I was fed up with war . . . the heartache and division it caused people. And now you bring in a fucking mercenary? I quit!” Face red, he propelled himself from the wall toward the door.
“Whoa!” Kevill stood up and blocked his right-hand man. “I haven’t finished, now have I? Just hear this out.”
Josh paused, allowing Kevill to continue through the holo display. Daka himself stood unshaken by the office’s wall window.
“After five years of freelancing, he found himself in Yemen, working for the U.S. in their war against terrorism. There, he picked up more English skills but also came into a personal quandary. On a mission to infiltrate an Al-Qaeda headquarters, he found love.”
“What?” Josh said.
“Yes.” Kevill looked at Daka, who continued to stand without expression. “Love. A local woman, it seems, patriot to the Al-Qaeda cause. The relationship helped infiltrate the terrorist camp, but, in the end, sad to say, she died with them. When Daka refused to trap the headquarters withher in it, the U.S. stormed the place by force.”
Kevill scrolled the holo projection to a new screen, showing Daka’s picture and a number of other African academics. “And now meet Doctor Daka Nabouti, professor of international relations at the University of Nairobi.”
Evidently, Daka had had enough of being talked about in third person. “I saw the destruction I caused and was a part of,” he said in a singsong Kenyan accent. “I saw it over the whole world. In my own people, I see the poverty and starvation everyday. It has to stop. We can make it stop. Doctor Kevill here has the answer, I know.”
“Daka is ready to help us take our project to a whole new level.”
Josh looked at the holo screen and sized up his new co-worker. “Well, Doctor Daka, I apologize for the mercenary comment. If Kevill says you’re good, you’re good.” He extended his hand again for a shake, this one less gripped than last. “I wonder, though, how you two met?”
Kevill fielded the question. “A conference last year. We struck up a conversation, and I noticed similar interests. We’ve been communicating via the ‘Net ever since.”
Daka flashed Josh a quick smile, showingno teeth.
“I’m glad our team is shaping up.” Kevill sat down and twirled in the leather chair before facing the German. “To let you know, Daka inoculated the student this morning, the Reynolds kid, instead of Madalene.”
Josh stepped back and straightened up. He had always been the first to plan, the first to know. Noticeably, he forced himself to relax, and, looking at Daka, said, “Everything go okay?”
“Fine,” the African said. “I understand the secret must be kept. I understand he will not be hurt.”
“Level point one - zero, right, Doctor Kevill?”
“Yes, Josh, but keep the monitor tight.” He got up and approached the door. “I’ll leave you two alone to discuss the project and upcoming inoculants. We’ll be meeting D-O-D tomorrow morning?”
“Eight o’clock.”
“See you both then.”
“Both, sir?” asked Josh. He made to grab Kevill’s arm. “But D-O-D doesn’t know about Daka. He isn’t cleared.”
“Daka, let Josh know what we have planned, will you?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Doctor Kevill, you don’t mean to . . . ?” Josh let the thought fade, knowing full well what his boss meant. “So that means another late night, I suppose?”
“Yes, a bit later than usual . . . for both of you.” Kevill gave them a wink. “Remember, Daka is not a fool when it comes to computers.”
Amber didn’t drink beer in the afternoon, so Brian ordered colas for them both. He found himself needing to talk again. Something about Amber brought out words, his life and experiences. Over jukebox tunes, he soon opened up about Kevill and nanotechnology and Mike’s subsequent discoveries. She took it all in stride, proving to be just the listener Brian needed.
Or did she?
“So what do you think?” he said, opening to a letdown if she didn’t think much at all.
“Pretty strange, all right.” Maybe it was the lingering illness, he thought, but Amber looked bored, distracted. She got up to use the restroom in the middle of his story, and Brian found her gazing at Sam’s sports memorabilia on the walls more than once.
“I guess one of your philosophy professors wouldn’t be caught up in secret projects and small computers, huh?” he asked, looking over his beverage at her.
She smiled at that, relieving Brian to know she was at least somewhat present. “Hardly! They’re too caught up in their own minds!”
The wood and glass front door to Sam’s flung open, a disheveled Mike Reynolds stepping in.
“Mike!” Brian said, getting up to greet his friend. “Man, we’ve been looking for you! You missed the final! What the hell happened?”
Eyes blood-shot, face pale, Mike’s body movements were also jerky as he approached their booth; when Brian shook his hand, Mike’s was clammy.
“Well, you know me!” Mike replied with a half-hearted smile. “I was up late doing experiments, and my stupid electricity went off in the middle of the night. I overslept!”
“No way! But didn’t Jackie wake you? She came over, even called.”
Mike scratched his red head with a dopey smile. “Nope. Guess I was out of it.” 
They sat down, Brian next to Amber. “Mike, you remember Amber from last Friday night? Amber, Mike?”
They exchanged hellos.
“Overslept?” Brian spoke again, wanting to put an arm around Amber but placing them on the table instead. “Mike, you don’t look so good. Got the flu or something? Amber says she had the same thing earlier this week. Could be going around.”Mike shrugged his shoulders and gave another fake smile to cover his condition. “Maybe.”
Amber eyed Mike and cocked her head. “You going to talk your teacher into a make-up? Surely, he’ll understand about the electricity.”
“Doctor Kevill?” Brian said. “I’ve had three classes with the man now, and I’ve never heard of him giving a make-up. Either you’re there, or you’re not.”
“Actually,” Mike said, scratching his head and giving Brian a look like he didn’t mean to offend. “I just saw Kevill. He . . . he seems okay with it. I can make it up Monday.”
“No way!” Brian’s eyes grew wide. He unclipped his handheld from his belt and called Jackie. She answered, but this time without any video. Probably working, he thought.
“Jack, you won’t believe this, but Mike just walked in here at Sam’s . . . Yeah, he’s all right. And get this! He says Kevill’s giving him a make-up on the test!”
As Brian was distracted telling the story, Mike and Amber shared a meaningful glance, both looking at each other’s matching figure-eight necklaces.

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