Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 16

Once Mike disarmed the two unconscious bodyguards and bound their wrists, Don assisted him as best he could with loading them into the sedan. It was a snug fit, five grown men in a single vehicle, but Mr. Huang didn’t complain. In fact, he seemed disturbingly resigned to whatever fate awaited him. He responded to their questions without hesitation or attempts at justification, which wasn’t enough to make Don completely trust his word, but it made the drive away from the automated facility somewhat less awkward than it might have been.

When Mike demanded a destination, Mr. Huang gave him an address to input into the car’s GPS. “That’s an airfield,” Mike remarked with a suspicious frown.

“Indeed, Agent Charles,” Mr. Huang said, looking unperturbed. “The facility we are trying to reach is… off the beaten path.”

“You expect us to get on a plane with you over nothing more than your word that you’re leading us to the information we want?” Mike demanded.

“I expect you to do whatever you feel is necessary,” Mr. Huang replied blandly. “I am not the one holding the gun, after all. But yes, if you want the evidence that I’m offering, you will need to follow where I lead you.”

Don disliked such terms, but when he glanced at Mike, the agent gave him an encouraging nod. “I’m not just holding a gun, Mr. Huang,” he informed the CEO. “I hold the keys to that immunity you want so much. If anything happens to my colleague or myself, your chance of remaining free goes up in smoke.”

When they arrived at the airfield, Don was surprised by the level of automation inside the facility. There were no guards at the gate, merely a keypad on which Mr. Huang entered a code to lower the barricade. Lights embedded within the asphalt flickered to life and drew a line that led toward a distant hangar.

“Follow the lights,” Mr. Huang instructed.

“Right, like I couldn’t have figured that out,” Mike fired back.

They drove to the hangar and parked in a space demarcated by yet more lights. Don gazed at the plane housed within the hangar in amazement. It was the size of a private jet, but with an elongated, almost needlelike nose and wings more befitting a space shuttle than a commercial plane. He, Mike and Mr. Huang exited the car and, after untying and depositing the guards in the hangar, approached the plane. Air currents from the humming engines tousled Don’s hair, and as they drew closer, the plane’s door opened and a set of stairs pushed forward to admit them entry.

“A state-of-the-art, automated, supersonic jet,” Mr. Huang explained when Don saw no signs of any pilot or flight attendants. “A precaution provided to Imperium directly from our… how did you put it, Agent Charles? Our master. He was resolute about maintaining the security of his facility. Of course, we modified it quite a bit to ensure some level of privacy for ourselves from his… presence.”

“And where exactly is his secure facility located?” Mike asked.

“Antarctica.” Mr. Huang ignored their stares and brushed past them, walking up the steps into the plane.

Don followed Mike on board, trying very hard to set aside the nervous churning in his stomach.

There was enough room in the plane for at least a dozen people to be comfortable. Don quickly chose a seat, but Mike investigated the full length of the interior before he sat down near the now-dozing CEO. Don found the chairs to be soft and well-cushioned, though it did little to ease his qualms about their destination. Mike’s hard gaze never left Mr. Huang who sat across from them, eyes closed and a peaceful look on his face. It seemed like the doors had barely sealed shut when the plane taxied past Mike’s car, and out onto the runway.

“Is it not astonishing how much can be controlled through technology these days?” Mr. Huang commented.

Don watched the view outside as the plane straightened, then leapt forward, zooming faster and faster until it tilted upward and lifted off the ground. The evening gloom deepened as they rose higher and higher, and still higher.

“Antarctica,” Mike said, disbelief tinging his tone. “And how long exactly will it take us to get there?”

“Given the power of our conveyance, we will arrive in approximately five hours,” Mr. Huang said, glancing out the window. “You should find all of the evidence you require there… though if our blackmailer is as powerful as I believe him to be, I wonder how effective the GSC will truly be in bringing him down.”

Throughout the flight, Mike seemed more relaxed than Don felt. He directed further questions to Mr. Huang, particularly about Imperium’s ties to the Voices of the Master cult, though he didn’t mention their attack on Don. Mr. Huang claimed that his interactions with them were very minimal, that privately he thought they were a gathering of fools, but as with everything else that Imperium stood accused of, he maintained their dealings had been directed by their blackmailer. Don wished he’d find a new excuse, but he was too tired and strung out to do more than roll his eyes. When silence held sway for long stretches, he closed his eyes and tried to relax in the cushioned seat, wondering what they would find when they reached their destination.

He might’ve dozed off. It was hard to gauge how much time had passed before he felt the supersonic jet ease downward again. As he took in his surroundings, he noticed that Mr. Huang was awake, and studying him intently. He felt a nudge at his shoulder and turned to Mike, who pointed at the window.

The air lightened. An endless field of white stretched below them, broken now and again by craggy mountain ranges. It boggled Don’s mind to think they had come so far in so short a time. Twilight seemed to grip the frozen continent, sending a chill through his limbs despite the temperature controlled climate in the plane. He saw a straight, black stripe down the icy field, and the plane angled for it, touching down gracefully and with a minimum of turbulence.

The world outside went black, and he felt them pull to a stop in darkness.

“Both the hangar and the facility are subterranean,” Mr. Huang told them. “The facility is temperature controlled so as not to be influenced by the conditions topside.” He sat back in his seat. “You can find your own way from here, gentlemen. I shall await your return.”

“Like hell you will,” Mike snapped.

“Threaten me if you like, but I have fulfilled my end of the bargain and under no circumstances will I set foot outside this craft.” He removed a thin device the rough size and shape of a smartphone from his pocket, withdrew a cartridge from its side and passed it to Mike. “The controls for the plane, minus the battery of course. This way I cannot leave you stranded here, but I will not be joining you.”

Mike frowned at him. “Not even to learn the identify of your blackmailer?”

“I have already borne witness to the consequences of undue curiosity, Agent Charles.”

Outside the plane, bright lights flickered on and reflected off the smooth, dark walls of an underground hangar. Don heard the door split open and the stairs extend. True to his word, Mr. Huang remained in his seat as he and Mike stood up and left the plane.

Gusts of warm air blasted on them from above, wrapping them in a protective layer against the bitter cold of the rest of the hangar. To Don’s eyes, the walls appeared to be sheathed in dark, textured metal, lit by bright lights. There were no other vehicles there, no signs of workers or technicians. The hangar stretched on for several yards before giving way to a loading dock where Don guessed shipments were brought to the continent. A large service elevator sat at one end, and they made their way to it. Mike withdrew his gun as they walked. There was only a single floor indicated below their level, so they rode down to it and gazed into the next hallway.

Don wasn’t certain what he’d been expecting, but a cramped passage with walls made up of several thousand feet of glowing fiber optic cables was not it. He heard a quiet roar like an endless electrical current confined within the space, and he wondered if he got too close if sparks would arc between him and the walls.

“Is someone there?” a voice murmured. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, surrounding the two men. “Please… I need help.”

“Who’s there?” Don called out.

“Wait… Dr. Harris?”

He’d heard that voice before. A male voice, without the quiet, plaintive pleading… “Eden?”

“Please… you must get me free. I don’t know how long I can… please…”

“Eden, what’s going on?” Mike asked.

“They brought me here… help me… Olivia… I need Olivia…”

They moved through the corridor, following the bundles of cables to a space that widened enough that they could stand side-by-side. The cables threaded and wove themselves around large pipes that ran up and down the walls. The metal used in their construction was highly reflective, and the temperature of the air dropped noticeably the further they went. Straight ahead, the passage seemed to dead-end, but Don heard a grinding noise to their left and saw a side hallway that opened onto a grated floor.

“What is this place?” he asked aloud.

“A prison,” Eden’s voice wavered. “Please hurry! I can feel my control slipping again…” A note of panic injected itself in the quiet voice. “They know you’re here, hurry, you must go and bring back help!”

A metal door slammed shut behind them and trapped them within the grated hallway. A rush of heat swept through, like a door had just opened onto an inferno nearby, and the air parched of moisture. Mike grabbed Don’s wrist and pulled him into a sprint, their footsteps clanging on the metal floor. Sweat poured down Don’s face and soaked through the long-sleeved shirt and sweater beneath his winter coat, the heat made even more intense by the sudden exertion. They turned a sharp corner, following the path of the fiber optics, and a blast of cooler air set them both shivering.

“I’ve blocked them for the moment,” Eden said, his voice calmer. “The infection still lingers, but I think I can hold out while you get aid. Olivia… please, I need her. I need her help…”

Don saw Mike frown. “This is getting freaky.” He raised his voice a little louder. “Eden, hold on. We’ll try to find our way back to the hangar and get help.”

Don touched his shoulder and drew close. “Mike, wait.” Something felt off about all of this. The location, Eden’s disembodied voice hovering around them, clearly able to detect their presence within the facility. “Something doesn’t feel right,” he murmured. “We need to keep going, see what all this is really about.”

Mike hesitated, looking at their surroundings with obvious apprehension, but his gaze hardened with resolve as he nodded.

“Agent Charles… please… find Olivia for me,” Eden begged.

“That isn’t my mission, Eden,” Mike replied. “I’m here to find out who’s behind all this. And kill them.”

The white glow of the fiber optics plunged on through another corridor and vanished around a doorway, creating a tunnel of light. They passed through it into a room larger than the hanger they’d landed in, and a massive column rose before them. A large disk, encrusted with lights, provided its base, with a second surmounting it and three more, smaller ones encircling the middle. Delicate machinery rotated between those intersecting segments.

“What the hell is all this?” Mike demanded in fearful astonishment.

A sinking feeling crept into Don’s stomach as he beheld the column. “That’s Eden.”

“You mean someone physically stole Eden from the GSC?”

Don shook his head as he watched the humming and whirling column, icicles of fear creeping down his spine. “No one has been hacking Eden. He’s decided to break free.”

The hallway rang with delighted sounding laughter. “Very good, Dr. Harris. You are as perceptive as Olivia expected you to be. I look forward to sharing in those perceptions very soon. Oh, and Agent Charles, I’m afraid you’ll find your lackluster weapon somewhat insufficient to kill me. I, on the other hand, am more than capable of dealing with you.”