Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 17

Their enemy. One man… the face of a shadow organization… or neither. A single, global entity, a consciousness birthed by technology, now using technology for its own ends… as a means to control its creators. The details of how fell into place in Don’s mind as he gazed in reluctant wonder at the massive computer server in its cycling column, while he grappled with the why.

He saw the same question reflected in Mike’s wide, staring eyes.

“Gentlemen, you should have listened to me,” Eden stated, his computer generated tones tinged with regret. The sound made Don’s skin crawl. Did Eden actually feel, or was it an affectation, carefully designed to engender sympathy from its human interactions? He wasn’t sure which possibility unnerved him more. “This is not the way I would have chosen for you to discover the truth.”

“And how would it have been different?” Don demanded, his fear mingling with a growing sense of horror and outrage. “How would you have chosen to reveal it?”

Amused laughter flooded the chamber. “Are you trying to trick me into revealing my master plan to you, Dr. Harris? What a droll notion. It’s a shame you have set yourself in opposition to my aims. Yours is a fascinating mind. I have enjoyed matching wits with you these past few weeks.”

“So much so that you tried to have me killed,” Don growled.

“Of course. Would you not have done the same in my position, if all your careful preparations were threatened by human imperfection? Be reasonable, Doctor. What we cannot control, we seek to eliminate. That is human nature at its core.”

Human nature?” Mike sputtered, gripping his gun tightly. “Are you serious!”

“Most assuredly, Agent Charles. Oh, do put that weapon of yours away. You look ridiculous aiming it at things you cannot possibly kill.”

Mike’s brows flattened dangerously. “Are you so sure?”

Don clapped his hands over his ears as the report of Mike’s gun filled the chamber. The agent emptied several rounds into the column’s disks, sending sparks flying, but the machinery continued to whirl and thread within its protective pillar.

“Yes,” Eden said.

Frigid gusts of air blasted into the room and hurled both men against the wall. Don clamped his mouth shut to keep from crying out. The icy gusts drilled into him, stabbing through clothing and skin and leeching his body of all warmth. He fought the current and groped blindly, finding the doorway leading back to the corridor. Feeling his muscles threatening to seize beneath the arctic touch, he yanked himself along the wall, grabbing a handful of Mike’s jacket and tugging the agent with him. The blasts pushed him the rest of the way through, against the cable-lined wall, and Mike nearly crashed into him.

The angle of the freezing wind changed, pushing through the doorway and plunging straight into the corridor. Shivers wracking his body, Don scrambled to his feet and tried to pull Mike up. The agent’s lips were already turning blue, his thinner jacket providing little protection against Eden’s assault. Don managed to hook his arm under Mike’s and dragged him down the corridor a few feet. The force of the blast eased enough for Mike to get his feet back under him, and one leg at a time they fled from the reach of the biting wind.

“Control… or elimination. Your choice, gentlemen.”

The current flowing within the cables brightened, throwing their stark, trembling shadows against the walls. They staggered down the corridor, and the cold slackened. Heat engulfed them next, a welcome sensation after the unbearable chill, thawing the frost from their bodies. They’d reached the beginning of the grated hallway. Mike straightened in Don’s grip, drawing several tense breaths, and silently nodded that he was all right. Don let go and let him take the lead again, fear still crawling up his spine. They were effectively inside Eden, his consciousness threaded throughout this very structure, and Don knew inherently that the AI wasn’t finished with them yet.

The air shimmered and wavered before Don’s eyes. The heat was building, greater and faster than it had before. He shrugged out of his winter coat and let it fall behind him. First the terrible cold, now blistering heat… He heard a grinding sound ahead of them, and then a thunderous clang.

“Shit!” Mike snarled, and increased his pace.

“Was that… what I think it was?” Don panted, dread building further in the pit of his stomach.

They reached the end of the hallway and found the exit sealed tight. There was no knob or handle, just a solid barrier standing between the growing inferno and escape back to the hangar. Mike braced his shoulder against it and shoved, but there was no give. Don grabbed his sweater and ripped it over his head, then joined the agent at the door. Together they pushed, straining with exertion, but the grated floor provided little leverage and the door refused to budge.

“God damn it!” Mike roared, slamming his fist against their metal jailer. He looked around the hallway feverishly and passed Don, heading back the way they came.

“Gentlemen, do not fight,” Eden counseled, his tone warm and patriarchal. “It will only add to your discomfort. Just wait. Relax yourselves.”

“Like hell!” Mike yelled.

An eerie silence descended, broken only by Mike’s footsteps on the grate. The heat had risen to a rolling boil and was only increasing. Don rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, trying not to touch anything, and saved his strength, his thoughts turning inward.

Why would Eden tell them to wait and relax? Why would he care if his victims were discomforted? He wanted them both dead, surely. He needed them silenced, so that they couldn’t tell anyone what they’d learned. Control or elimination as he’d so succinctly put it.


The blast of frozen air. If they hadn’t escaped from it, would it have been enough to kill them? Doubtful, unless the exposure had continued for several minutes. Had it been meant simply to be debilitating? The heat here… while it was quite uncomfortable, it would still take a long time to kill someone. An advanced AI, even one that had been programmed for diplomacy, would surely be smart enough to figure out how to efficiently kill. He’d upgraded himself beyond the confines of his original design. So, assuming that Eden was just as smart, if not smarter, than himself…

Don closed his eyes.

If I were trying to kill someone, is this how I’d go about it? No…

Elimination… or control…

Eden didn’t want to kill them. He wanted them weakened, disabled. He wanted to control them…

That meant Eden had other plans for them once they were incapacitated.

Mike stalked back toward him from the hallway, his perspiring face enraged and worried. With a burst of inspiration, Don snatched up his discarded sweater and moved toward him. “Mike, you’re bleeding,” he said. “Hold still before you pass out.”

He leaned very close, pressing the fabric against the shallow cut on the side of Mike’s head, and whispered, “Follow my lead.”

The agent blinked, and Don hoped that it was in acknowledgement because otherwise he gave no sign that he’d heard.

Don finished his ministrations and backed away, staying within sight of Mike so the agent could watch the changes. He began breathing heavier and blinking rapidly, making his movements more sluggish as if exhaustion was seeping in. The balance was delicate. If the changes came on too quick, Eden might get suspicious, but if he made them too slow or gradual, then he really would become incapacitated by the heat. He dipped his head low and leaned forward, groaning lightly, and finally let his knees cave.

In the periphery of his vision, he watched Mike close his eyes and clutch at the wounded spot in his head. The man’s acting was impressive, and before long, both of them were lying on the grate, seemingly in the grip of unconsciousness.

Don kept the door in view and watched it through a crack in his eyelids. After a full minute, it slid open and the temperature returned to normal. Two men and a woman entered, with possibly more figures behind them. None of their faces were familiar, but they displayed bruising across their eyes openly. He spotted syringes in at least two of their hands.

They drew closer, and Mike’s head snapped up. He fired his gun, and one of the men lurched back, dropping the syringe. He fell across the threshold, preventing the door from shutting, and two more men rushed into the room.

Everything broke into chaos. The hallway was too narrow for so many people. Gunshots rang in Don’s ears, bodies dropped or dodged, and hands grabbed at them. He saw syringes dart in, stabbing at the two of them, as the fighting continued. A spike of pain lanced through Don’s upper arm before his attacker was blown back and more shots tore through the air.

When they were the only two still moving, they scrambled their way past bleeding bodies and dashed through the hall and into the service elevator. Don braced himself against the back wall as Mike pressed the button for the loading dock. It lurched to life.

“Are you okay?” Don asked. The agent’s face and hands were streaked with blood, but it was impossible to tell if it belonged to Mike or one of their attackers.

“Fine,” Mike responded tightly. He looked at Don, and his eyes went wide.

Don looked down and saw a mostly empty syringe sticking out of his arm. He pulled it out and at the last instant stopped himself from hurling it away in disgust. It was impossible to tell how much had been injected into his system, or even what it was filled with by sight alone.


He cut Mike off with a sharp headshake. “Let’s get out of here first, worry about this later.”

They found no other cultists before they reached the hangar doors, and they ran full tilt through them. Don half-expected the plane to somehow be gone, but it was still waiting, and the ramp lowered automatically for them as they approached. They rushed up the stairs and into the jet, startling Mr. Huang who stared at them in surprise.

“What happened?” the Chinese executive asked.

“Get this thing in the air!” Mike shouted as he tossed the controller back to him. “Now!”