Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 18

The snow-covered continent fell away behind them as the plane leapt into the sky. Adrenaline still pumped through Mike’s system, sending his thoughts and instincts into overdrive. Right now, his main concern was Don and whatever substance he’d just been injected with. The doctor sat stiffly in a seat, his expression tight and his eyes staring yet unfocused. He blinked when Mike laid a hand on his shoulder but didn’t turn.

“Tell me what to do, Don,” Mike whispered. “You’re the doctor. How can I help?”

Don shook his head. “There isn’t much you can do until we get back to the lab. Just let me focus, Mike. Trying to keep calm under the circumstances is… challenging.”

“Understatement of the damned century,” Mike muttered and sat down in the seat beside Don.

“Tell me what happened,” Mr. Huang insisted, eyeing the blood drying in patches and spatters on Mike’s hands.

Mike threw a glare at him. “We found out who Imperium’s blackmailer is,” he replied shortly, uncertain how far they could trust Mr. Huang. He was the one who’d brought them to Eden’s bizarre fortress. The fact that he was still there, waiting for them, raised Mike’s suspicions.

Mr. Huang’s fingers tightened on his chair’s grip. His previously defeatist mien faded as he leaned forward intently. “Who is it?”

“Why don’t you try a guess?” Mike snapped. “You never once tried to discern their identity? All this time, and no one at Imperium ever figured it out?”

The Chinese man’s brow furrowed with displeasure. “Of course we tried, but we never got far in our investigations, and the reprimands we received each time convinced us that it was not worthwhile to continue.”

“And what was your cooperation supposed to get you?” Mike demanded.

“Survival,” Mr. Huang replied. “We would be allowed to conduct business as usual, without certain misdeeds being made known to the public. It was the only way to preserve our company.”

“Did you really have that many skeletons in your closet? How much were you being compensated for all your efforts?”

“Calm yourself, Agent Charles,” Don murmured. Mike turned and looked at him. Don’s face seemed more relaxed. “Of course Mr. Huang was kept in the dark about who his company was dealing with. To do otherwise wouldn’t have been logical.”

Mike frowned and shook his head. “Still trying to do my job for me, Don?”

The doctor didn’t answer. He stared forward, blinking languidly with a blank expression. A feeling of wrongness crept up Mike’s spine. Was the cultists’ injection starting to take affect? “Don?”

Don clenched his eyes shut, an almost pained look crossing his face. “What?”

“Did you hear my question?” Mike asked.

“What question?”

“I just asked you if—”

“If I was trying to do your job for you, Agent Charles?” Don’s expression evened out, and he turned slowly to face Mike. “No one could ever do your work better than you. That’s why Olivia trusts you. In fact, I imagine you are the only person on the planet she actually trusts, at least as far as she is capable. She used to trust me, but hasn’t for some time.”

In an instant, the feel of wrongness shifted into a fevered rush of alarm. “Who exactly am I speaking with?” he asked in as controlled a tone as he could manage.

Don’s mouth curled upward, and without warning he lunged across the seat, grabbing for the gun at Mike’s waist. Mike vaulted out of the seat and seized Don’s wrist. The doctor thrashed, but Mike pinned his arm against his back. The struggles ceased, and a deep gasp tore from Don’s mouth. “Mike,” he strained, his tone filled with panic, “you have to knock me out! You have to do it right now!”

“What’s happening?” Mike demanded, never slackening his hold.

“It’s Eden! He’s in my head… trying to take control… stop him!”

The tranq gun was still in Mike’s second holster. He drew it, but Don renewed his struggles with vigor. Gritting his teeth, Mike pressed the muzzle against Don’s back and fired. Don went rigid, then completely slack, nearly sliding out of the seat. “Help me!” Mike snarled at the staring Mr. Huang, and the executive bolted up and grabbed Don’s unconscious body while Mike leaned the seat all the way back. They laid him back down, and Mike began to pace around the cabin of the plane, growling curses under his breath as his thoughts raced.

“What the hell is going on?” Mr. Huang demanded.

Realizing that he had no choice but the rely on his former suspect, Mike explained in hasty detail what they’d learned inside the Antarctic facility and about Eden’s attempts at wresting control of the world’s governments through the virus and Imperium’s resources. “The syringe,” he remarked, casting a worried glance at Don. “It had to have contained a new version of the virus. Eden’s never had this much direct control before.”

The return flight back to New York was tense and subdued. Mr. Huang adjusted the aircraft to block all external communications to hamper Eden’s ability to influence Don’s mind, and Mike kept him sedated with the remaining tranquilizer darts. Before they landed back at the private airfield, Mr. Huang used a point-to-point optical transmission to send a message to Olivia at the GSC headquarters, requesting an airlift back to the lab. Mike hoped that the GSC facility hadn’t already been compromised.

The helicopter arrived as Mike injected Don with the last of the tranquilizer. Members of his security team had brought a foil-lined hazmat suit with them and spent several minutes fitting the unconscious doctor into it. As the helicopter lifted back into the night sky, Mike sent up a silent prayer that their precautions would prove enough.

Sarah and several lab technicians met them at the helipad on the GSC campus, taking immediate control of Don’s care. Mike hadn’t included many specifics regarding Don’s condition to Olivia, beyond that he’d been infected. “I don’t understand how this could happen,” Sarah growled, pushing the gurney that bore Don back in the direction of the lab. “He doesn’t have the matching blood type.”

“It has to be a new version of the virus, Sarah,” Mike said grimly. “My blood type doesn’t match either, but they tried to inject me with it too. It works a hell of a lot faster and more directly than the first. Don only had the nanites in his system for about twenty minutes before Eden started taking physical control of him.”

“Eden?” Sarah exclaimed, and the other techs mirrored her shock.

Mike nodded. “Long story, let’s stabilize Don, if we can, before I get into it.”

Sarah looked down at Don, pursing her lips, and pushed the gurney a little faster. “Let’s get him into containment, fast,” she ordered the techs.

Mike wanted to follow them, but he had his own duties to attend to first. He led Mr. Huang deeper into the underground facility. The Imperium executive didn’t need to be compelled, but followed Mike demurely to Olivia’s office.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the director was seated at her desk when they entered. She rose to greet them both. “Is Dr. Harris stable?” she asked.

“He’s alive,” Mike replied, “but beyond that, I don’t know. The virus he was infected with is new. I don’t know what kind of long term effect it’s going to have on him.”

Olivia sighed, planting a hand on her hip in a gesture Mike recognized. She was calculating and analyzing the situation, trying to discern all possible outcomes of the current state of affairs. After a moment she turned back to the two men and gave a curt nod. “Hopefully Dr. Douglas will be able to continue the work if we lose him. We have to find a cure for this virus before we lose complete control.”

With effort, Mike pushed his own concern for his unintended friend into a back corner of his mind. He adopted a neutral stance and turned to face Olivia. “It may be too late for that. Before we were attacked, we discovered that Eden is the one who engineered the virus. He’s behind the ‘hacking’, the cult… all of it.”

Olivia’s eyes slowly widened. “Michael, that’s… that simply isn’t possible.”

“No, ma’am, I’m afraid it’s exactly what’s already happened,” he told her firmly. “The facility Mr. Huang led us to is the complex that now houses Eden’s consciousness. He isn’t under our control anymore. He’s trying to bring us under his.”