Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 15

Mike eased the building door open and scanned the grounds. When he didn’t see anyone, he held the door open for Don, then sprinted to the edge of the building and glanced around the corner. He caught sight of Jun Huang, halfway across the street with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his black overcoat. A second man was trailing behind him, watching the street, while a third waited outside an already running limousine. Bodyguards, most likely. Mike ducked as far back as possible while maintaining visuals and watched Jun Huang climb into the rear of the limousine. His guards did one more sweep and joined their boss in the vehicle. Mike waited until the limo was out of sight before rushing toward his own car with Don on his heels.

“I don’t see them anywhere,” Don fretted as he slammed the passenger door shut.

“It’s fine.” Mike made sure the car was still in manual mode and pulled away from the curb. “There’s only one route out of this area, and very little traffic here. If we follow too close, they’ll know they’ve got a tail.”

“But how do you know they’re leaving the area? What if they’re driving to another factory here?” Agitation made Don’s voice a little breathier than normal. Without looking over, Mike laid a hand briefly on the virologist’s shoulder.

“Because they were headed toward the exit, not deeper in,” he explained calmly. “Trust me, Don. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

He heard a sigh. “I’ll stop trying to do your job for you.”

“Good man. Just keep your promise. Do whatever I tell you to, and we’ll be fine.”

Mike drove the car past the last of the gray buildings and turned back onto the main street. He caught a glimpse of the limo’s taillights a few hundred feet up the road, with a couple of cars between them.

“That man… what did you say his name was?” Don asked.

“Jun Huang.”

“He said something about a last inspection, right?”

Mike nodded, playing back as much as he remembered from Mr. Huang’s phone call and trying to pick it apart. Mr. Huang had certainly given off the impression that he was subservient to whoever had been on the other end of the line. A CEO of an international conglomerate like Imperium wouldn’t use honorifics like “sir” that much if it were otherwise, nor would he be doing inspections like this personally.

“They’re trying to cover something up,” Don continued. “That factory back there… they cleaned it up, changed everything around. It had to have been the place where the nanites were made.”

“And from the sounds of things, it might not have been the only facility making them,” Mike added.

“We can’t let them get away with this.” Don’s tone took on an edge of fervency that made Mike frown.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” he warned sternly. “Something’s going on that’s got these people spooked. You don’t start suddenly scrubbing evidence unless you’re worried someone’s getting close to finding it. If that someone isn’t us, then we could be walking into a deadly game of cat and mouse.”

Up ahead, the limo made a left turn. Mike maneuvered the car into the lane and managed to turn just as the light changed. The sky had gone as gray as the factory buildings they’d left behind, and the color seemed to leech from the world as evening wore on, replaced by garish, artificial spots of light. Mike kept his gaze roving between the limousine they trailed, the digital clock on the dash and the street names they passed, trying to mentally map their route. They were back in the heart of Brooklyn, crossing through toward the eastern side. The fading daylight gave him an advantage. It was harder to pick out details of cars near you under the glare of their headlights. He lingered as far back as he dared and stayed with the limo.

At last it turned down another side street. Mike quickly zoomed the view out from his car’s GPS and realized another industrial sector lay in that direction. He followed, increasing the distance a little more, and watched carefully. When the limo made another turn up a dead-end street, Mike pulled to a stop and waited. The limo’s brake lights brightened near the far end, then shut off.

“Let’s go,” Mike stated. He popped open the trunk on his way out of the car and opened a case that held two high-powered tranquilizer guns. He loaded six cartridges into both and held one out for Don. “In case there’s trouble.”

Don looked at him aghast. “I’m a doctor, I’m not shooting anyone, Agent Charles!”

“Non-lethal, fast-acting tranquilizer rounds,” Mike explained with a grin. “You think I would trust you to actually shoot someone?”

Looking only slightly mollified, Don accepted the gun and inspected it. “How potent is the tranquilizer?”

“Analyze the specs later, Doctor.” Mike tucked the non-lethal weapon into a second holster and motioned for Don to follow. They crossed the street, keeping out of sight of the limousine until they reached the opening of the street. “Watch my back here,” he whispered to Don, then moved forward, ruffling his hair and adopting a slouched posture. He saw only a single guard who had taken up position near the limo, encased in a black suit with a stern expression and an earpiece.

Before Mike got within twenty feet, his target spotted him and reached under his jacket. “Hey, man, my gas ran out of car, uh, few blocks… that way,” Mike slurred, pointing off in a random direction. He stumbled forward, inching into range.

“Too bad for you,” the guard grunted. “Now get lost.”

“I just need a couple bucks to get somethin’ in the tank—”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? Move it!” The suited guard extracted his weapon, and Mike dropped to one knee, drew the tranq gun and fired. The cartridge made less noise than a bullet, and it took his target in the neck, just under the jaw. The man went limp instantly, and Mike caught him before his head hit the ground, lowering him gently the rest of the way.

He heard a startled shout coming from Don’s direction and another weapon discharge. Sprinting back to where he’d left the doctor, he saw the second guard crumple to the pavement, a tranq dart in his ribs. Don was staring down at him in surprise. “God… he came up behind me! I never even heard him. Then he grabbed my shoulder and I just…”

“Relax. He’s fine,” Mike reassured, then grabbed the unconscious guard under the arms and dragged him off the street. Don followed, recovering quickly from his daze, and the two of them approached the building next to the limo.

It was far larger than the one they’d visited first, but still only boasted external security. Mike shook his head. Hubris made work too easy sometimes. He disconnected the power to the cameras and led the way to the door closest to the limo, raising his tranq gun and motioning for Don to stay a pace or two behind him.

Like the other building, the interior was fully lit and stuffed with brand new assembly equipment. Mr. Huang wasn’t difficult to spot between the twisting conveyer belts, though it appeared he hadn’t noticed the new arrivals yet. Mike crossed the room quickly, keeping the tranq gun trained on the Chinese executive, and leveled the weapon’s barrel at him as soon as he turned around. “Hands where I can see them,” Mike barked.

Jun Huang obeyed, glancing between Mike and Don with an analytical expression. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded with only the barest hint of an accent.

Mike sneered at him. “Spare me the outrage, Mr. Huang? Would you care to explain why you’re here ‘inspecting’ several manufacturing plants instead of letting one of your worker drones do it? Did the master order you to?”

Mr. Huang’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”

“Agent Michael Charles, GSC Security.” Mike carefully altered the grip on his weapon to withdraw his wallet and flashed his credentials. “Since you’ve gone to the trouble of scrubbing this facility, and we’ve gone to the trouble of tracking you, how about we forgo the canned speech you’re about to lay on us, Mr. Huang?”

A look of irritation crossed Mr. Huang’s features. “I suppose there would be little point, if the GSC is already involved. But you don’t understand what’s happening here, Agent Charles.”

“Enlighten me,” Mike said flatly.

“Only if the GSC grants me total immunity.” Mr. Huang glared at the weapon, looking nervous and frustrated at the same time. “I’m a tool in this, and I’m not willing to take the fall for someone else’s delusions of grandeur.”

“Immunity is a pretty sweet deal. It’s going to take a lot more than ‘I’m just a patsy’ to convince me that you’re worth it, Mr. Huang.”

“I don’t know his name!” Mr. Huang exclaimed desperately, then drew a deep breath. “He has been blackmailing us for months, feeding us the schematics for these… machines and contracting other equipment upgrades using our resources. As far as I know, he’s also responsible for the death or disappearance of two Imperium executives.”

“One man?” Mike repeated, his suspicions rising. “Threatening one of the largest corporations on the planet?”

“One man, or the face of a shadow organization, I don’t know. But yes…” Mr. Huang’s gaze turned bleak. “I have been forced into servitude for almost a year. Setting up nanite production lines, developing technology that could potentially be used to access Eden’s processor functions, and even supplying a… cult,” he stated with some distaste. “This should give you an idea of how powerful and well informed they are, Agent Charles, and how… decisive they can be when displeased.”

Don stepped forward. “What about the nanites?” he demanded. “The virus?”

“That was a mistake, one that I have been tasked with correcting. When I saw the specs for what was demanded, I never intended to allow manufacturing to proceed. However, a software glitch led to several hundred production cycles, and, well, the results have become quite visible across the globe. Due to the error, any control we might have possessed to stop whoever is behind this has been lost.” He spread his arms wider. “As you can see, everything’s been removed.”

“Along with anything to corroborate your story,” Mike reminded him.

“Except that I know where it has been taken, along with all the other new equipment Imperium has been making for this man, or his organization.” Mr. Huang raised his chin and fixed his gaze on Mike. “That is what I offer in exchange for immunity. You won’t find his location in any of Imperium’s records or databases. If you want it, then you must bargain with me.”

“Keep watch on him,” Mike told Don, while he took out his phone and dialed Olivia. He gave her the broad strokes of his conversation with Mr. Huang, as well as his terms.

The line was quiet for several minutes. “Give him what he wants,” she said at last. “Get him back here after you check out the facility, and Michael… when you get there, your orders are shoot to kill.”