The Torus Project

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

Chapter 9 (v.1)

Submitted: February 06, 2011

Reads: 53

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 06, 2011

A A A

A A A

Chapter 9
10:27 p.m., Friday
“So what’s your problem, Carol?” Josh allowed Brian and Carol into his entryway before closing the heavy front door.
Brian could tell Dr. Uhland had aesthetic taste. The house looked immaculate from his small vantage point—simple, elegant. Beside him, a large, blue-and-white vase filled with long twigs rested on a lacquered table. Past the tiled entryway, a roomy living area looked to hold inset bookcases, a few speakers, and, maybe, a shiny musical instrument.
“Well, Brian here needs to access some information, but . . . we didn’t want to use his computer or mine since we didn’t have the firewalls you do.” Brian knew some about firewalls—protective software and hardware that filter information coming into a computer from outside sources. Sources connected to the computer just as the computer was connected to the outside world via phone, cable, even wireless links.
“Why? Concerned about hackers hopping your line?” He steered them past the living room and into an adjoining hallway, switching on lights, Brian noticed, only so far as they wouldn’t stumble in the darkness. A few abstract pictures hung along the white walls—modern art from what Brian could tell, with their weird shapes and use of color. The effect of light, color, and movement gave him the impression of entering a carnival house. “You are accessing an outside source, right?”
“Yes,” Carol replied. She hovered behind Josh, biting a nail and sending Brian a friendly smile. “Kind of a long story, but we didn’t want anyone backtracking the link. And I knew your system was the best.” 
She touched Josh on a well-toned shoulder, telling Brian that, possibly, Carol and Josh were more than simple acquaintances. Along for the ride, he followed them off the main hall into a small room housed by an art table, a desk, a chair, and a closet. Brian noticed a schematic on the drawing desk in the corner, a huge magnifying glass hovering over it along with a halogen lamp that provided the room’s only light. A bulky, woven rug coveredthe floor, with reds and yellows interconnected to form many circles that, in turn, all formed a larger circle. The rug’s pattern seemed to match the schematic on the table. Didn’t I see that somewhere on campus before? Josh’s black and gray desk housed the “system”—a large, flat-screen monitor, now blank, affixed to the wall and what looked like an internal CPU, though the poor lighting made details hard to see.
“Well, I try to practice what I preach.” Josh approached his system and tapped a button, raising the keyboard. The monitor also came to life, showing a crystal-clear picture of a castle, the colors so crisp Brian felt he could step right into the scene of rolling green hills, a broad moat, and tall stone walls.
“Neat,” Brian said.
“Reminds me of home,” Josh said. “Nothing fancy.” He typed a password, from Brian’s guess, which took the castle away and left the monitor a soothing light blue with some typical Windows icons.
“Carol, you know the way. Just so long as you guys aren’t hacking into Euro Bank!” He laughed. “I’ll go get . . . ah . . . Brian, was it?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll get Brian another chair. You guys care for drinks?”
“Do you have any of that killer spiked lemonade, Josh?” Carol said, planting herself at the desk and seeming more comfortable now that she was behind a computer screen.
“No, but won’t take but a few minutes to make. Brian?”
“Sure.” Brian felt uneasy coming into another person’s house, especially a university professor’s house. But Carol seemed okay with it, so he took a deep breath after Josh had given him a chair and left to make their drinks, handing Carol the drive.
“Seems like a nice guy. You have him for class or something?” he asked.
Carol grabbed the drive and fit it into a hidden slot in the desk’s lining. “I did. But I’m not in that department anymore.” She looked back at him to make sure he understood the point. “I had him for class; he helped me on some projects. Just arrived here from Germany, you see, about eight months ago. He needed a local to help him out. I noticed he was a whiz and had this super system. You know.”
Brian could guess he knew. But whatever, he thought, let’s see what Dr. Uhland’s “system” can show us.
At first, Carol seemed to be having trouble accessing the portable drive’s data. She tried various routes before finally bringing up the list they had seen not forty-five minutes before at Brian’s apartment.
“Guess I’m still getting used to his system,” she murmured. “Well,” turning to face Brian, “what link do you want to try first?”
“Ah,” Brian leaned in, thinking to find Kevill’s name as fast as he could, “let‘s search first. How about Oklahoma?”
“Okay.” Carol punched in the term, and, interestingly, five hits were produced, two attached to Oklahoma State University, one at a private firm in Oklahoma City, one at a private firm in Tulsa, and one at Oklahoma University. The three academic hits all were coded government-related.
“Cool,” said Brian. “Now, let’s try the OU link.”
“Already ahead of you,” Carol replied as she hit the link. Josh’s computer then signified it was entering the ‘Net and, thus, going past the in-house system.
Brian felt a twinge of doubt, though. I am in a computing science professor’s house, aren’t I? Accessing his computer and looking for information on a field in his domain? He looked over his shoulder with worry.
“All right.” Carol continued her concentration. “Here we go. University of Oklahoma Nanotechnology Initiative. This must be a university-wide thing, part of the national government initiative.”
“I ran across this in my research,” Brian said. He remembered the billions of dollars the U.S. government had put into researching nanotechnology since the 1990s, funding projects across the nation.
“Guess I’ve heard about it, now that I see it again,” Carol said. “Let’s see what it’s about.” She clicked another hyperlink, which took them to the university’s nanotech homepage, so to speak.
“Great!” Brain said.
“I’ll just copy this link to your flash drive. It’s an open site, so you should be able to access it later with no problem.” Carol pushed a few buttons with acumen and continued scanning Brian’s list. “Here’s an interesting piece of information . . . Looks like faculty involved in OU government projects—though this is directly off your drive, not directly linked to the university’s main nano page.”
Brian again looked over his shoulder for their host. “Who’s on it?” He expected Dr. Kevill to show since Mike had run across his name before.
“Well, let’s see.” A list of ten names came up, all computing-science-related. “And look here. Josh . . . I mean Doctor Uhland is listed!”
Brian saw it clearly, the man whose house he was in matched a link to a government grant. He wanted to go further but instead tugged on Carol’s right arm.
“Hold it. I don’t think we need to go any further,” he whispered. “Especially with Doctor Uhland coming at any time.”
Carol frowned back. “Why? Let’s ask him about it when he returns. You want some research. Here you have a perfect primary source!”
“No. If he finds this, he’ll ask the questions, not me.”
“One more link, Brian, and we can see what government project he’s on,” Carol whispered.
Brian paused again. He knew this was a chance he might not have again. “Go help him with the drinks, Carol. Stall him. I’ll hit the link.”
“Sure. And save the info by doing this,” she said, instructing him before getting up and leaving the room.
“Okay, Kevill,” Brian said under his breath after she had left the room. “What are you up to?”
 
#
 
In a well-lit, spacious kitchen located in an opposite wing of the large house, Josh mixed drinks with a blender, staring, too, at a mini-monitor flipped out from underneath a nearby cabinet. The ten by ten-centimeter screen, though, had no sitcom or TV talk show but rather a direct line to his computer study. One side of the small screen displayed Brian and Carol’s movements through a hidden camera on the art table across from them. The other side had their computer activity. Once realizing Brian’s drive contained information accessed by student Mike Reynolds earlier that week, Josh followed their electronic movements more closely than first anticipated.
The blender whirred to a halt, and Josh poured his concoction into three glasses. And, while putting in some straws, he pushed a button near his belt to place a call.
“Yes?” answered a familiar voice through an earpiece Josh had retrieved from behind the monitor. “Is there a problem?”
“Some, doctor.” His earpiece also acted as a mini-microphone. “Your . . . ah . . . student is actually here . . . at my house.”
“You don’t say?” Kevill’s tone was relaxed. “My student as in the student with whom Amber is enamored?”
“Yes, sir. And he seems to have access to the nano links procured by our recent convert, Mike Reynolds.”
“And you just let him use your system?” His voice hoarsened.
“A past student of mine, Herr Doctor, escorts him. She has been here before. She—”
“I get the picture, Josh. Where are you? Switch to video.”“My kitchen, sir.” He pressed a button on the side of the monitor, and Kevill’s face filled the screen. He looked disheveled. Graying hair wet and messed up, the tops of his shoulders bare like he had just gotten out of the shower.
“Can they hear us?”
“No, sir,” Josh whispered, looking back across the kitchen.
“Can you patch their access to me?”
“Yes, sir. One moment.” He retrieved a handheld computer from a nearby counter space and punched a few keys.
Kevill now viewed the split screen shot of Carol and Brian plus their computer workings.
“They are practically linked to our project!” He looked back at Josh through the camera on his end. “Doctor Uhland, I propose you cut their power. Just make an excuse. Plus, I want that data!”
 
#
 
Carol headed for the kitchen, meaning to ask Josh more about his nanotechnology interests. Standing in the entryway and gazing through the living room toward the kitchen, she overheard Josh’s voice from what sounded like a one-way conversation, probably through his cell. She stopped, not wanting to interfere, but listening intently just the same.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “I’ll do what a can. Switching power off now.”
Carol tiptoed to the living area, its space filled with a large, black leather couch, a matching leather chair, and a very sophisticated home-theater system that centered on a big-screen monitor. Along one wall, fish swam in darkness, the large tank dormant for the night. She peeked around the corner to see Josh’s toned and muscular back showing through his tight black t-shirt.
“I don’t know. She just arrived . . . Daka, too? Okay . . . Sure. I’ll make up something. Josh out.”
Josh pushed up the mini-monitor and placed his handheld computer back on the counter. Just as she was ready to retreat, she heard Brian’s voice from behind her.
“Psst! Carol!” he whispered from the entryway. “I think it might be time to leave!”
Brian looked worried, like he was ready to bolt.
“What’s the matter?” Carol asked, going back to the entry.
“The computer went dead. I tried to access the OU file and the project, but the screen just went blank. I pushed buttons and nothing. So I got the disc out.”
“Well, let me try.”
“No,” Brian countered. “I think we need to get back to Wilson and Jackie!”
“So soon?” Carol heard the clank of glasses from the kitchen and knew Josh was coming their way.
“You don’t understand. When I tried to get the links back, he came on the screen before it went blank again. He was there, staring straight at me like he was actually in the room!” “Who?”
“Doctor Kevill!” Brian spouted in a terse whisper.
Josh rounded the corner to the entryway, catching the two in their conversation.
“Doctor Andrew Kevill?” he asked. “Doesn’t he work in the Psychology Department?”
Brian and Carol stared at Josh wide-eyed, neither answering the question.
“Hey, you guys leaving already? I’ve got your favorite drink, Carol!”
“Uhm . . . Brian has to get back home, unfortunately.”“Well, did you get what you were needing?”
Brian jumped in. “I think so, Doctor Uhland. Thanks a lot, though your computer went dead on me just now. I don’t know if I hit the wrong button or something.”
“May have gone to shutdown mode automatically. Sorry, I forgot about that. Would you like for me to start it back up?” Josh placed the three drinks he was cradling on the entryway table and casually put one hand in his pants pocket.
“No, that’s all right, sir,” said Brian.
“Okay. So, Carol, this is all secret spy or something, eh? No explanation about why you needed my system?”
Carol straightened out her blouse and looked down at her jean shorts for a second or two—thinking of what she had just overheard from the kitchen. She popped her head back up and looked at Josh. “Well. Brian seems to have made enemies with a fellow psychology student. Isn’t that right, Brian?” She scrunched the corner of her mouth, the side facing Brian.
“Uh, huh.”
“The two of them—you know men!—are fighting for research spots in the department, trying to find as much information about their project to out-do the other guy.” Again, Carol placed a friendly hand on Josh’s shoulder. “But this other guy has recruited some hacker who keeps spying on Brian’s research. He hacks into Brian’s computer. He knows Brian’s signature when he’s on the ‘Net. So . . . ”
“So you decided friendly Doctor Uhland would come to your rescue?”
“Something like that,” said Brian, with a weak smile. “But I remembered my sitter at home wouldn’t work overtime without taking away too much cash.”
“Yeah.” Carol smiled at Josh. “Be at your office Monday?”“Uhm. I don’t know, Carol.”
“Maybe I’ll see you there.”
“Okay,” said Josh. “I’ll see you soon.” He gave Brian a hard stare. “Brian, is it?”
“Yes.”
“Brian, how did you discover your movements were being digitally tagged, so to speak?”
“Well, Carol helped me there.”
Josh turned his stare. “Carol?”
“Yes, well, I used that program you mentioned to locate an external source,” she said. “Plus, Brian’s evil research pal told him to watch out for pests.”
“Oh, the man gave himself away, eh?” Josh opened the front door to let the two out.
“Something like that,” said Brian.
“Can’t be too careful with prying pests, huh, Brian?” Josh uttered in monotone.
“Uh, no, I guess not,” Brian replied. “Thanks again for your help. You have a real nice place here.”
“Well, thank you, sir.” He outstretched a hand to Brian. “Nice to meet a serious student. Someone like Carol here.”
Brian shook Josh’s hand, noticing it was a bit warm even after handling the cold drinks.
“Thanks, Josh. Bye!” said Carol, and the two stepped into the darkness, each holding more questions than they had upon entering Josh Uhland’s house.
 
#
 
Across town, tired of watching TV, Jackie Smithers had turned to surfing the ‘Net, looking for a song she had heard on the radio earlier that day in the gym.
“Brian won’t mind if I download some stuff onto his hard drive,” she said to herself between humming bars to the song.
Unknown to her, though, the previous placement of Brian’s flash drive in his computer that night had implanted a beacon of sorts on the machine, and now her external probing activated the beacon for others to see.
The seer—dark, muscular, intelligent—noticed a blip on his computer screen, signifying a break had happened, and he knew now might be a good time to find the originator. He knew that the project’s secret must be kept and that those in the way would have to be monitored closely for the greater good.
Seeing that their newest inoculant, Frank Barnes, slept nicely, Daka made sure the DOD agent was locked away in a small holding room of the underground lab. He turned off his handheld computer, which monitored Barnes’ condition and also signified computer activity, and decided to lock down the lab for the time being. He stepped outside to a brisk wind, entered his silver Volvo, and headed in the direction of university student housing.


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