Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 10

Mike wove through the crowded den where black-garbed members of his security team were securing the grounds outside the house. Don was sitting on the leather couch, watching the team’s medic stitch up the gash in his side. He looked up as Mike approached, a silent and uneasy question in his eyes.

“No other signs of intruders,” Mike assured him. “As soon as you’re patched up, we can get you out of here.”

Don seemed to relax slightly, turning away and gingerly probing the side of his nose with a grimace. “Good.”

“You’re sure you don’t recognize any of them?”

“I’m sure.” The medic taped a thick, padded bandage over the fresh stitches. Don acknowledged his efforts with a nod of thanks, then looked back at Mike. “How the hell did you get here so fast?”

“I decided to crash at the guesthouse tonight,” Mike replied. “There’s a monitoring station in one of its back rooms, and with everything that’s going on with Imperium, I figured it would be best to keep an eye on you.”

Don pulled on the sleeve of the soiled bathrobe. “I’m grateful, Mike. If you hadn’t shown up when you did—”

He left it hanging, and Mike sighed, frowning deeply. “I almost didn’t. These three knew the codes to the security system. I didn’t realize they were in here until the biometrics showed a spike in your pulse. That’s when I knew something was wrong.” He sat down on the couch beside Don to suppress an urge to pace. Mike hated close calls. “Any guesses as to which company provides said security system?”

Don’s gaze was fixed on the coffee table. “Imperium?”

“Bingo. Combine that with the fact that all of your attackers were infected…” He gave a grunt. “I haven’t made a solid connection yet, but I will. I promise.” He stood and offered Don a hand. “Come on. Let’s get you back to the campus. It won’t be as cushy as this place, but I can personally guarantee it’ll be safe.”

Don took his hand and winced as he got back to his feet. “That’s good enough for me. Just let me get changed.”


They drove back to the GSC and pulled up in front of the medical research building, which was now guarded by visibly armed security personnel. “It’s starting to feel like I’m never going to escape this place,” Don remarked dryly.

Mike tossed him a sympathetic grin. “It seemed the best place to hole up under the circumstances. It’s easily guarded and will probably be more comfortable than a bunker.”

“I’m not complaining, Mike. As long as I’m laid up, I might as well try to get some more work done, and this is a good place to do that.”

One of Don’s team members, a Dr. St. John, met them at the curb and helped the injured doctor out of the car and into the building. Mike watched them until they were safely behind the wall of guards and pulled out his phone.

Hanson, the agent he’d left in charge of the house investigation and clean-up, picked up after two rings. “Tell me what you’ve got,” Mike said.

“We’ve got a positive ID on two of the attackers,” Hanson replied. “I’m sending you the details now.”

“Hold off on that,” Mike advised, concerned about any potential monitoring software Imperium might have watching their email system. “Give me a summary for now.”

“Scott Walsh, aged 27, was the one who stabbed Dr. Harris with the kitchen knife. The one you put down in the den was named Hector Manzetti, aged 40. Both residents of New York. Neither had any priors, no known problems with violence or aggression. We’re still working to ID the third assailant.”

Mike clenched his jaw. No history of violence… He warned himself sternly against jumping to conclusions, but the fact that both had been infected with the nano-virus made his guts churn uncomfortably. “Anything that connects the two?”

“Well, they had the same religion, if you could call it that,” Hanson said.

“What do you mean?”

“Some quasi-New Age bullshit called the Master’s Order. A bunch of paranoid yahoos who are convinced that the world is going to come to an end the next time a nuclear strike goes off. My sister-in-law won’t stop yapping about them.”

“Dr. Harris said his attackers kept talking about ‘the voices of the master’ as they were assaulting him,” Mike said, his thoughts racing. “Could the attack have any sort of religious connotations?”

“It’s a possibility. That, or someone is trying to discredit the group. We don’t know enough yet to make any precise connections.”

Mike nodded to himself. “Keep working on IDing the third attacker. Let me run down this Master’s Order lead for a while. I’ll let you know what I find out.”

“You got it, chief,” Hanson said.

He slipped the phone in his jacket pocket, headed inside to the security office and made a beeline for Connor’s workstation. The technophile was working late again, per normal, and was happy to show off the custom rig he’d set up to scour the internet without any data being logged. That was fine for Mike. He wanted to keep as much of the investigation away from Imperium eyes as possible.

The information they found regarding the Master’s Order had all the hallmarks of a cult. The data on their purported beliefs and doctrines was all fairly new, only a couple of months old. They blamed all of the instability happening around the world—the acts of nuclear terrorism, the governmental upheavals—on a fundamental darkness within mankind itself, a darkness that was destined to be cured by an entity they referred to as the Master.

“Call it God if you wish,” a narrator said on one of the numerous video clips found on their main website. “Call it enlightenment. Call them the voices of the universe itself. We have heard these voices… and we heed their call.”

Connor snorted. “Do these people have any clue how crazy they sound? It’s like a generic mix of every religion I’ve ever heard of.”

Mike wasn’t particularly interested in whether or not they were crazy. He wanted to know if their beliefs could push them to murder. Three people had gained access to a secure house owned by the GSC for the express purpose of killing Don Harris, and he needed to know why. Had the three been acting on their own, or possibly directed by whoever controlled the nanites? Had they been dispatched by higher-ranking members of the Master’s Order?

Another hour passed as they gleaned further vague details, but it didn’t take long to notice the characteristic infected bruising across the eyes of several followers who were listed as senior members. Mike clicked through a series of links and discovered that the mark appeared to have some significance to the cultists.

The touch of the Master, they called it. A mark of favor, because those who had it claimed to be able to hear the “voices of the Master”.

“Voices?” Connor echoed, looking confused. “What, is this master more than one person?”

Mike shook his head. “I’ve no idea. They really don’t like going into specifics.”

The opposing consensus regarding their organization was that they were narcissistic nut jobs, trying to inflate their own importance by inventing their own faith while scrambling for answers amidst the world’s turmoil. There was nothing reported about them being violent, but that could be because their appearance was so recent.

While they claimed to have adherents all over the world, a couple of meeting places were listed right in New York. Mike memorized the addresses and left Connor with orders to dig up anything else he could. Mike retreated to his office, pulled out an emergency cot he’d stashed there for just such an occasion, and turned out the lights.

Shortly after dawn, he drove to the first address on the list, which turned out to be a kind of recruitment center in a tiny office crammed between a bodega and an old pawn shop. Despite the early hour, the center was open. A young woman with a vapid smile greeted him at the front desk, surrounded by neat stacks of brochures blaring messages of impending doom and the need for belief. A small row of tables crowded with folding chairs dominated the center of the room, and old vending machines stood in the far corners. About twenty people mingled within the room, talking quietly amongst themselves, and Mike noticed without much surprise that two of them bore bright crimson bruises across their eyes.

“What can I do for you, sir?” the receptionist asked mildly.

Mike quickly adopted a haggard, anxious expression and hunched his shoulders. “I’m… I’m looking for answers,” he replied, and waved his hand toward the center’s main entrance. “There’s stuff happening out there, bad stuff, worse than bad, and I’m just trying to wrap my head around it. I… I feel like…” He trailed off as if embarrassed and dropped his voice lower. “I feel like a voice inside me is telling me to get ready for something, but I’ve got no clue what it is.”

The receptionist nodded, serenity plastered across her face. “I understand, sir.” She stood and stretched her hand toward the center of the room. “Won’t you come with me? We have plenty of guides who would be happy to help you understand.”

Sniffing, Mike nodded. “Yeah, sure, thanks.”