Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 12

“So, you see, Zachary, the nuclear devastation was all a result of mankind’s inherent instability.” The guide who’d introduced himself as Emmett gave Mike a vacuous smile, the same one he’d been beaming all morning. “Our inability to cope with our own flawed nature. We are destined to destroy ourselves.”

Settling into the role of Zachary, an anxious business executive, Mike let his eyes widen in a look of desperation. “Then my feelings were right. It’s only gonna get worse out there.”

Emmett reached over to pat his shoulder consolingly. “Only for a time. The destruction will seem to reach its peak, but that won’t be the end for us. There’s an awareness out there that’s been watching us for a long time, waiting for us to push ourselves to the brink. Think of the entirety of the human race like an alcoholic. What happens when an alcoholic hits rock bottom?”

It was hard for Mike to keep from laughing out loud. The chubby, middle-aged man sitting across from him was in love with his own cleverness. Mike forced himself to sigh instead, slumping in the cheap folding chair. “Then they get up, because there’s nowhere else to go.”

“Exactly,” Emmett said. “And there’s a hand ready to help us get back on our feet. None of us are in this alone, Zachary.”

Mike leaned forward and massaged his forehead between the eyes. “I wanna believe that, I really do, because the shit that’s going on right now scares me, man. It does. I…” He let his words trail off. “I wanna believe that it’s all gotta be for a reason, that there’s a point to all this, and if I can just get through it, it’ll make sense.”

“Believe me, I understand, Zachary. I was just like you, you know, scrambling from one explanation to another, trying desperately to put my soul at ease. But then I found this place.” He spread his pudgy arms to take in the entirety of the room. “I met these people, and that’s when it all started coming together for me.”

“Can you tell me more about the Master?” Mike asked. “Like, what is he? Some kind of leader? A god?”

“The Master is all of those things,” Emmett explained, adopting a tone that Mike guessed was supposed to be mysterious. He began to wonder if the squat guide had fancied himself an actor at one point. “The voices of the Master spoke to us, told us that the world was meant to fall, but that we shouldn’t be afraid, because it was there to help us. These voices direct us, guide us, share the knowledge that will bring us through these troubled times.”

Mike gave Emmett a look of faint astonishment. “Can you hear these voices?” he asked.

“Oh, I do,” Emmett replied, just a little too smoothly for Mike to believe. There was no trace of bruising on his face, and if there had been, the small man would have likely displayed it as a badge of honor. So, a poseur, not a true believer.

Setting his analysis aside, he leaned forward more intently. “What do they tell you, Emmett?”

“That the end of the world as we know it is coming, but that it won’t be a true end. It’ll be a beginning, a chance for mankind to climb out from under the thumb of our own natures and become something greater than we could ever imagine.”

Mike let his head drop into his hands. “You sound so sure,” he muttered, making his tone sound envious. “I’ve never had that kind of faith in anything. I wanna be sure like that. How can I know for sure?”

Emmett stood. At his full height, Mike guessed the man would barely come up to his chin. “Do you have any pressing engagements today, Zachary?”

“Nah,” Mike answered. “I got nowhere to be today. I don’t know if I’m going back to that prison of an office ever again.”

“Good. A few of us are going to attend a meeting today. It should be small, a chance to meet one of our leaders. As a guide, I’m permitted to bring a guest with me. Would you like to come along?”


Aside from Mike and Emmett, there were two other guides and their respective guests all crammed in the back of a van. He tried to get a look at their destination on the program screen attached to the steering wheel, but all he could catch was that it was somewhere in the Hudson Valley area.

Their conversation drifted primarily toward speculation as to when the next “big event” was likely to occur, where, and whether or not this would mark the point of no return for the human race. From their words, Mike speculated that the other two guests had already been far more indoctrinated into the Order’s faith than he was, and he continued to play the part of the desperate soul-searcher. He asked questions about their experiences throughout the world’s upheavals, hungry for any information he could get on the identity of the Master, but none of the answers revealed any new details.

The highway wound steadily northward, leaving the city and its suburbs far behind. The highway narrowed to two lanes as they entered the more rural areas of upstate New York, and Mike watched fields, farmlands and orchards surround them. The van turned off the highway and onto an old dirt road, bumping and rattling its way across one of the endless fields. He spotted an old farmstead in the distance, with a few newer buildings that had been built alongside a converted barn. A few dozen people waved to the occupants as the van pulled to a stop.

Mike pasted a curious smile on his face and clambered out of the vehicle, trying to ignore the uneasy goosebumps that rose on his arms as he looked around.

One man, tall with blond hair and a stripe of vivid bruising across his eyes, shook hands with each of the visitors. “Zachary, I’d like you to meet Brian,” Emmett said when it was Mike’s turn to greet the infected man. “He’s the leader of this particular compound and a great personal friend.”

Brian smiled at the short man. “You’re too kind, Emmett. I only seek to share the words of the Master with all who would hear them.” He raised his hands and addressed the assembled group. “I welcome you, fellow adherents, new believers and those seeking answers,” he said loudly. “Now that the new arrivals are here, let’s begin.”

He led the way to the barn and held open the door, watching everyone file into the building. Mike was one of the last to enter, and Brian seemed to make a point of smiling at him.

Despite the peeling paint and shabbiness of the exterior, the inside of the barn was like a highly modern conference room, with a large black table dominating the center and cubicles with laptops lining the walls. Fluorescent lamps poured bright light into the building, and off to one side a long table had been set up with coffee, sliced fruit and donuts.

Brian directed everyone to sit at the table while he moved to the front like a chairman. “Our order has been hard at work, trying to spread our message to all that would hear it, all who would know the truth of our words,” he said. “History will come to know us as the ones who saw the truth when all others were blinded by fear, and when the world is made anew, it will be our order who is to be entrusted with delivering the Master’s words to those who are left behind.”

After Emmett’s amateur attempts at provoking mystery and divine inspiration, Brian felt like a master orator. Mike watched him closely and realized that he actually seemed to believe every word that he spoke.

“All of us who are here today understand that the fundamental nature of mankind has never changed,” Brian continued. “Not once over the course of recorded history. We are a violent, insecure, hateful, deceiving species that constantly works counter to its own best interests. Our destruction is all but assured, unless we halt this trend and listen to that which calls to us.”

“The voices of the Master,” Mike heard Emmett intone, and Brian gave a slow nod.

“Yes. The voices of the Master have spoken to me of peace. Not the false platitudes of money or the illusions of power, but true peace. A serenity that comes from accepting our own flawed nature, and in accepting… to rise above it. To transcend it.” He extended his hand across the table toward the small cluster of newcomers, Mike included. “Would you know this peace, my friends? Would you leave your doubt and fear behind and join us in the new world that is to come?”

Mike squeezed his eyes shut and made his throat go hoarse. Before anyone else could answer, he rose to his feet. “Yes,” he rasped. “I will.”

The sentiment was echoed across the rest of the group, each one seemingly trying to outdo each other in showing off their conviction.

“In the coming months,” Brian said, “the old order of the world will be shaken to its foundation. A new infrastructure will rise to replace the old, and all who have pledged their faith to the Master will have an opportunity to serve.” He motioned to the nearby cubicles. “Come. Commit your talents to our cause.”

The newest indoctrinates spread out to the various laptops around the room. The screen displayed a database with a number of blank fields, waiting to be filled with contact information, job description and any lists of resources that could be allocated to the cause. Mike typed in the false name and job title he’d provided the initial recruiter, as well as the cell number to a disposable phone he’d acquired just for this purpose.

Once the last recruit had entered their information, Brian led a round of applause. “Welcome to the Master’s Order!” he declared proudly.

The meeting broke up into a more social affair. Smaller groups formed around the refreshment table, and idle conversations sprang up across the room. Mike drifted between the groups until he begged leave to use the restroom, and Emmett pointed him toward one of the other buildings outside the barn.

Mike sauntered over to the building, but once inside he dashed from room to room. Most of them were personal office spaces. He located the largest one, and a quick search of the desk confirmed it to be Brian’s. “Cult leaders always gets the nicest accommodations,” he muttered under his breath.

With practiced ease, he sifted through the desk drawers, mildly surprised to find them unlocked. There was a filing drawer on the lower right, and he thumbed through the neatly organized tags. One marked “Imperium” drew his attention. The folder was filled mostly with order forms for various pieces of equipment and software.

Mike frowned. The prices for the equipment were all itemized, but the balances at the bottom were zeroed out.

Imperium had donated all the cult’s equipment.