The Torus Project

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

Chapter 8 (v.1)

Submitted: February 06, 2011

Reads: 67

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Submitted: February 06, 2011

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Chapter 8
8 p.m., Friday
Frank Barnes arrived at Dr. Kevill’s lab promptly onschedule. In his usual suit and tie, hair slicked back, the Defense Department liaison was all business.
“Offer you some coffee, Frank?” Kevill said, Styrofoam cup in hand. The professor wore a short-sleeved shirt and slacks, greeting his guest upstairs at the lab’s main entrance. The last rays of sunlight trickled onto the non-descript and solid-white building, past its steel door, which read, “OU Department of Computing Science. Authorized Personnel Only.”
“Another hot one today, eh?” Kevill shut and locked the door, also activating an alarm. “Oh, but you wouldn’t know, being from Washington and all. Weather good up there?”
“Not bad, Doctor Kevill. Not bad.” Barnes analyzed his handheld computer as they walked through the single-story structure. Offices lined the first half of the building, following by dozens of computers fit into cubicles and lining walls in the second half. Through the vaulted room, larger pieces of machinery rested in open areas or were planted by tables and desks. One side of the second half was also cordoned off by glass and labeled as the “Clean Room”. White lab coats and elastic hats, gloves, shoes hung neatly inside, where more machinery could be seen under the lab’s blue-white lighting. 
The pair headed away from the clean room to an elevator on the room’s far side. Kevill slid his security card into a green-lit panel, opening the doors. “Our connection has spiked recently on actuator three, Doctor Kevill. Any reason?”
They entered and closed the elevator, its hum signaling a basement level to come. Kevill sipped from the cup. “Spike on three? I’ll have to consult the device itself, Frank, but I think we were testing the lattice . . . that’s all.”
“Shouldn’t have produced these results.” He flipped the small computer around to show Kevill its mini-screen readout.
“Hmm . . . strange. We’ll ask Josh in a moment.”
The elevator stopped, its descent time demonstrating a depth of more than a single story. The men exited, with Kevill again inserting his card in a green wall consol.
“Good you keep a tight security parameter, doctor.” Barnes sniffed, looking at Kevill and down the long entry corridor.
“That’s a priority,” Kevill replied, leading his guest through the bright, white-paneled passage to his main office about 50 meters from the elevator.
An open office door revealed Josh and Daka discussing a holo projection inside. Barnes froze and stared at Kevill, pointing a shaky finger at Daka’s back.
“What’s this? That man isn’t authorized!” He started to use the cell phone on his computer, but Kevill turned and stopped Barnes by placing a hand over the device.
“Oh, Daka?” With his other hand, Kevill ushered Barnes through the office door, spilling some of the Styrofoam-cup coffee down the back of Barnes’ suit in the process. “Daka, meet our Department of Defense contact, Frank Barnes.”
Daka, dressed in t-shirt, jeans, and sandals, outstretched a wiry, calloused hand but received no reply.
“Sir!” Barnes said, shaking Kevill free. He moved to use his handheld again. “You must leave this government-restricted area immediately!”
“Frank. Frank!” Kevill said. He discarded the empty coffee cup and stood before Barnes in an attempt to draw the DOD agent away from his personal computer. “Last week you wanted us to meet level two specifications, so we decided another professional would be in order.” Kevill’s use of the word “professional” was stressed.
“But without pre-approval, Doctor Kevill. You know the security guidelines! Such a breech could mean losing your grant, for heaven’s sake!” Neither Josh nor Kevill had ever seen the business-like, mild-mannered Barnes so animated. Streaks of red crossed his face; veins bulged at temples and forehead.
Kevill took control, his voice projected at Barnes, his eyes pinning the government agent to the spot. “A recent discovery, Frank. See it, and you’ll understand the need for Daka’s help.” He gestured out the office’s window, which looked upon the adjoining room and its light beam. “Honor this one request . . . allow me to escort you to the S-P-M. Josh and I have a wonderful thing to show you.” He referred to the lab’s Scanning Probe Microscope, which allowed them to look at atomic surface structures or “capture” subatomic movements at nanoscale, thus preserving them for later analysis.
Barnes’ eyes darted from person to person; sweat showed on his brow. But Kevill knew of DOD pressure. A new discovery under Barnes’ watch would mean prestige and honor.
“Please, Frank . . . then I promise to discuss Daka. We do apologize for the disruption . . . Daka, stay here. This next area is for Barnes’ eyes only.”
“Yes, sir.” The African sat next to the office table’s inset computer and used the keyboard.
“Well, you know procedure has been broken here, Doctor Kevill, Doctor Uhland.” Barnes turned to face the outside corridor. His eyes had widened, and he licked his lips. “A new discovery? How significant?”
Josh stepped forward, leading Barnes first right and through the main lab then left to another corridor around the corner from the office they had just left. “Very significant, Mister Barnes. Our previous quantum circuit has grown, hasn’t it, Doctor Kevill?”
“Yes. Well put, Josh.” Kevill pulled on his ponytail and smiled.
Off the second corridor, the trio found the sleek SPM—which could be mistaken for an oversized, plastic desk—housed in a small room some five by five meters. Attached to a regular microscope, the device was coupled to both a regular flat screen and a holo projection device. It sat waiting for the next person to peer inside.
“You have a new circuit tunneled? Nanotubes intact?” Barnes asked, looking for Kevill to switch on the monitor instead of him having to actually look through the lenses himself.
“All ready to go,” Kevill said. “I’m afraid, though, the clarity of our monitor is in question at the moment. If you will . . .” He pointed to the microscope’s eyepiece.
“Sure.” Barnes stuck his computer in a jacket pocket and proceeded to absorb what he hoped was a new, small world. Yet once his eye sockets touched the microscope, though, both Kevill and Josh sprung from the room, slammed and bolted the door, and peered to look at Barnes through a glass panel fitted in the entrance. Daka soon joined them, holding a small remote device.
They could hear a muted Barnes say, “What the hell?” He had straightened up and was trying the door handle to escape. “Doctors, what do you think you’re doing?”
“Sir?” Daka asked.
“Proceed,” said Kevill, with a slight smile. He raised his voice, projecting it as he had done before to calm Barnes down. “No worries, Frank! Relax! Soon, all will be fine!”
Daka pressed a button on his remote, which triggered a mechanism in the SPM. In seconds, a thin stream of white gas poured from the microscope, filling the room. At first, Barnes panicked, staring in disbelief at his captors through the door’s porthole. But, as the gas thickened, he first retrieved a handkerchief from his jacket and placed it over his mouth. With his free hand, he next produced his handheld computer, laid it on the counter beside the microscope, and began using it.
“Blocked?” Kevill asked.
“Yes, sir,” Josh responded. “Room’s tight. No transmissions. Got a ground wire fed through the SPM to him. And no possibility of the inoculant exiting the chamber.”
Once Barnes realized his message wasn’t outgoing, a look of anger crossed his face followed by fear and confusion.
“Relax, Frank! One more minute. Relax!” Kevill pressed his face against the glass, taking in the show.
Barnes grabbed the room’s one chair with his free hand and flung it at Kevill, who stepped back. It only rebounded with a dull thud. He picked up the furniture and tried again, but, upon looking, the three outside could tell their prisoner was struggling. His eyes rolled up; his head thrown back. In mid-swing, Barnes dropped the chair and staggered, catching himself by grasping the counter with both hands.
Despair and betrayal moved through Barnes’ face as he glanced at Kevill and at the floor. Finally, he collapsed in an unconscious heap.
“Done, Herr Doctor,” Josh muttered.
“Right. Proceed straight to level point two–zero.”
Josh and Daka retreated to proceed with the inoculation and clean up, leaving Kevill standing by the windowpane alone.
“Sorry, Frank. Had to be done.” He looked over his shoulder toward the glass-encased beam of light down the passage in the main lab then back at Barnes’ lifeless body. “Sleep tight. Soon you will know more than you ever knew and be glad for this new direction in your life.”
 
#
 
That night Jackie and Carol visited Brian as scheduled, stoking an already hyper Wilson with the company. The four first enjoyed a rousing game of Candy Land on the living room floor until Wilson was sent to bed; afterwards, they played Canasta, something Brian had picked up in the Air Force, and put on some soft music to fill in the quiet times of strategic contemplation. Soon, he and Jackie realized Carol was winning, even though she had never played.
“The flash drive,” said Carol, pulling her friends away from thoughts of quitting before the game was through. They had all taken off their socks and shoes on the hot night, with Brian opening up his windows for a nice breeze. Both Jackie and Carol were also dressed for summer in jean shorts and t-shirts.
“What?” Brian said.
“You said you had some information on a flash drive. Nanotechnology?”
“Right!” Brian jumped up, all too ready to turn away from losing, and found the slender drive in a tray he kept such things.
The ladies stretched their legs, refilled drinks, and converged around Brian’s monitor. “What’d you say it had again?” said Carol.
“A list. Mike showed it to me. Nanotechnology research. The whole world, he said.” Brian allowed Carol to take the computer helms since she was more of an expert. The mention of Mike, though, noticeably affected Jackie, who frowned at Brian.
“All nano-related?” said Carol, focusing them back in the present. Her demeanor had changed since McDonald’s. Get her talking about computers and technology, Brian realized, and she comes out of her shell.
“What Mike said,” Brian replied.
“Nano what?” asked Jackie.
“Nanotechnology, Jack. You know . . . small things.”
“Hmm” was all the Jackie could add.
“Interesting,” Carol muttered after about fifteen seconds.
“What?” Brian and Jackie pulled up chairs to look over her shoulder.
“Definitely a list here . . . but look.” She searched the text document by highlighting a word each time it appeared as she scrolled down.
“Sure. You can search the list,” Brian said.
“Not just search,” said Carol. “It’s also interactive.”
“Interactive?” Jackie piped in. “What does that mean?” “Means hyperlinks.”
“You mean,” said Brian, “this list is linked directly to the projects on it?”
“Yep.” Carol turned to face Brian. “Mike said this is from his research computer in the psych building?”
“Uh, huh,” said Brian.
“Highly unlikely,” said Carol. She scratched her head and stretched. “Unless . . . somehow . . . his ‘Net or mainframe connection crossed one of these links and—along with a search term—drew in the whole list. Chaos Theory in action, I guess.”
“Chaos Theory, Carol?” Jackie said. “You know more and more the longer I know you!”
“An old theory, kinda. Depending on where you start determines where you end up. And,” Carol stuck a forefinger in the air, “even if you knew where you started, complex systems still can’t be 100% predicted. Like the weather, you know. A butterfly in China makes a tornado here.”
“That would apply to my life, I think,” said Brian, who leaned closer for a look at Carol’s next step into the nanotechnology unknown. “How about we try these hyperlinks?”
Carol looked back over her shoulder. “You sure about that, Brian? How secure is your link?”
Jackie’s eyes got wide. Brian knew she must be thinking FBI, terrorism, jail. Law enforcement had been focusing more on what was called e-terrorism. He realized the government didn’t fool around in that department.
He leaned back again and thought about his connection. Wireless, like most, he supposed the data bits just flew through the air to and from his computer, which decoded them so he could read and store. “Hell, I don’t know. Why?”
“Just remembering Mike and how someone called him after accessing this file. Right? This file might be a hot potato. Someone . . . or some computer . . . could be monitoring the hyperlinks.”
“What do you mean?” said Brian.
“That tapping the list through an outside link is detected . . . and probably on campus seeing how quickly they got Mike.”
Brian couldn’t help but think of Dr. Kevill and his imposing dark-skinned friend.
“Well, how can you access the hyperlinks without detection, computer genius?” While not tech-oriented, Jackie seemed to be taking more of an interest in their computer mystery now, probably, thought Brian, because she didn’t want to be caught.
“I’ve got a place,” Carol whispered. “Brian, do you mind if Jackie watches Wilson for few minutes?”
Brian saw a light bulb above Jackie’s head. She winked at Carol. “Sure, Bri. That’s fine. Go do your computer stuff. I’ll just mess around on the ‘Net here or watch TV.”
“Positive, Jackie?”
“No problem!”
“Okay,” Brian said, retrieving the pinky-sized flash drive containing nanotechnology information from his computer and turning to Carol. “Where do we go?”
She led him to the parking lot and her dark blue Honda Accord. A different look in her eyes, she said with confidence, “We’re in my territory now.” She pulled out her cell.
“Get in,” she practically commanded. And then to her cell, which had its video off: “Hey, it’s Carol! Got a computer problem. Any chance a friend and I could use your hardware a few minutes? . . . Great!”
Brian raised his eyebrows but went ahead with the plan. Now dark, the streets of Norman bustled with co-ed activity, but Carol zoomed past city limits.
“Your safe link is way out here?”
“A computer friend of mine.” She whistled carefree. “All digital, super firewall. If we’re detected, I’d be very surprised.”
Soon, Carol turned into an unpaved drive before coming to a halt. Brian peered through the front windshield at her friend’s house. Big. Modern. Surrounded by dirt instead of a grass yard, the house looked recently built to him. At two stories, the brick building was well lit on the outside with various spotlights, showing, for one, a wood balcony overlooking the garage. Downstairs, a bay window facing the front lawn showed no internal lights.
“Your friend lives with his parents or something?” Brian said, also noticing no cars in the drive.
“Well, actually,” Carol said, squeezing her lips, “this is his house. He’s a university professor.”
“Oh.” Brian looked at Carol and puffed up his cheeks. “Sure he’s home? Looks pretty dead.”
“He said he’d be here. Come on.”
She led Brian to a well-carved wooden door with only a golden knocker instead of a doorbell and banged three times. 
He couldn’t help havinga feeling of being watched. Only crickets chirped for twenty seconds before the door unlocked and the door swung open. Smiling, though without showing any teeth, the host looked to be in his middle to late thirties, with dark, shortly cut hair. A muscular build graced his frame, as shown off by tight-fitting black shirt and jeans. Brian also noticed the man looked ethnic, maybe European.
“Hey,” said Carol. “Sorry about barging in on you.”
“Anything for you, Carol,” he said, looking at Brian.
“Brian, I want you to meet Doctor Josh Uhland from the Department of Computing Science. If anyone can help us out with this information, he can.”


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