Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 2

Don was surprised when Director Woods joined him as he was led from the building by the same gray-suited official who’d met him during his arrival. Given how rough their initial meeting had gone, he’d expected that she would want as little to do with him as possible. Perhaps she was trying to ensure his cooperation by providing a personal tour. It seemed like the kind of move a domineering bureaucrat might attempt. He snatched his offered overcoat from his guide and yanked it back on, then plunged into a gust of frigid wind outside, trying to put as much distance between himself and Olivia Woods as possible.

A dark-haired man dressed in a black suit and tie was coming from the other direction and, in Don’s rush, they nearly collided. “Beg your pardon, sir,” the suited man apologized, stepping aside.

“It’s fine,” Don replied tersely. The man topped his height by a couple inches, had a muscular build and a gun clipped to his waistband. As angry as Don felt, he knew it was prudent not to piss off someone who appeared both armed and dangerous.

Instead of moving inside, the guard waited until Director Woods emerged from the building. “Is the car ready, Michael?” she asked.

“It is, ma’am,” the guard answered.

“Good.” She draped a scarf around her neck. “This is Agent Michael Charles,” she told Don, “the head of my security team. Any instructions or communications he gives during your time here can be assumed to have come from me.”

Biting back a sigh, Don gave a nod to the agent, who surprised him by flashing a quick grin and offering a firm handshake.

A limousine waited at the curb beyond the steps. Director Woods climbed inside first, and Agent Charles waited until Don had entered before following them and pulling the door shut. The gray-suited man was already retreating to the conference building by the time the car pulled away.

Instead of returning to the city, the limo pressed deeper into the sprawling grounds beyond the conference building. “You have a secure viral research laboratory on site?” Don asked incredulously.

“The Global Security Council has been charged with keeping watch over known or potential threats to international safety,” Director Woods replied. “Biological warfare is one such threat.”

“I thought the GSC was a diplomatic organization. A United Nations without the endless layers of bureaucracy?”

The director turned to gaze out the window at the myriad buildings and complexes rolling by. “It is… among other things.”

“The GSC campus houses a fully functioning military base,” Agent Charles added, pointing to a squad of uniformed soldiers marching down one street toward a collection of squat buildings that appeared to be bunkers. “It’s one of the most advanced and secure facilities for diplomacy, research and intelligence gathering in the world.”

Don sat back in the lushly cushioned seat and rubbed a hand over his forehead, wondering just what he’d managed to get himself mixed up in.

The limo wended its way through the campus, past tall office-looking buildings and barracks-like structures, until it pulled up before a square, single story building ringed by fall-hued elms that seemed almost plain compared to the architecture elsewhere on the campus. The passengers exited the vehicle, and Agent Charles held the front door open for Don and the director. There was a security station just inside with body scanners and a pair of guards that looked well-armed and no-nonsense.

“Dr. Harris will require full access to the research laboratories,” Director Woods instructed once she’d swiped a laminated badge through the security reader, then removed a manila folder from her briefcase and deposited it on the desk. “Here are all the required credentials. See to it.”

One of the security guards gave a curt nod, waving both her and Agent Charles through. Don was required to step through the body scanner and subjected to a wand swipe before being directed to stand in a square marked on the floor with black tape. A brief flash illuminated his features from a glowing dot in the far wall and he was told to move along.

Agent Charles was holding the elevator open for him, and let the doors shut as soon as he stepped inside. They rode down several floors and passed through a corridor lined with glass walls. Technicians busied about work stations and computer terminals, some in lab coats while others wore goggles and facemasks. Director Woods led the way to a door marked with the number 613.

They stepped through the door, and Don immediately noted how being back inside a laboratory, even an unfamiliar one, had a calming effect on his emotions. There was a decisive order to the place, and every lab tech he saw moved with precision and purpose. Seekers of a deeper truth and understanding found within the laws governing the scientific world.

A trim woman with short, brown hair and a pair of silver-rimmed glasses over her brown eyes approached them. She rested her hands in the pockets of her lab coat, and her expression was one of wary puzzlement. “Director?” she asked. “We weren’t expecting you today. Is there something you need?”

“There is, Dr. Douglas,” the director responded. “Gather the team together. I have an announcement.”

“I can’t right now, ma’am. Some of our testing samples are in a critical monitoring—”

“Gather the team, Sarah,” Director Woods repeated with a hint of ice in her voice. “Now.”

Don saw Dr. Douglas’s jaw tighten, and she turned and moved through the room, waving those who looked her way closer, and tapping those who were otherwise engaged on the shoulder to draw their attention. Her co-workers began to speak in hushed tones and threw bewildered glances at the new arrivals, and an uncomfortable suspicion grew in Don’s mind.

The scientists gathered in a loose semi-circle, about twenty-five people of varying ages and ethnicities in total. Director Woods wasted no time in addressing them. “By now, I’m certain you have all heard the rumors,” she said, “about a new and mysterious disease that has been detected across the globe. This laboratory has been tasked with unraveling the virus: its effects, its point of origin, its transmission vectors, and ultimately, its treatment. All of your current projects and research are suspended until further notice, pending the completion of this task.”

A look of consternation spread through the team members that confirmed Don’s suspicion. Like him, they had just been conscripted into this foolishness without warning or discussion.

“I wish to thank Dr. Douglas for her excellent performance as your team leader,” Director Woods continued brusquely, “however, due to the nature of this new threat, the GSC has brought in a specialist with a deeper background and experience to head up your division.” She paused long enough to gesture in Don’s direction. “This is Dr. Don Harris, a veteran virologist. Follow his orders and complete your assignment. All of the pertinent information is being sent to your secure email addresses now. I suggest you begin at once.”

Fierce mutters followed in Director Woods’s wake as she turned and departed the lab with Agent Charles trailing after her. Don caught a glance of Dr. Douglas’s tight-lipped look of lividity and quickly cleared his throat. The director had just dropped an even bigger mess in his lap than he’d expected, and if this team was going to work with any efficiency, he needed to rally his new troops.

“I’m not normally one to make speeches, but given the circumstances, it seems that a few words are perhaps necessary,” he told the assembled scientists. “It’s quite obvious that no one is happy with this turn of events, and if it makes any difference to you, I share in your dissatisfaction. I was forced to leave my research behind at a very inopportune stage to be brought here by the GSC. They have made it clear that they consider this new disease to be of critical priority, and I have to believe they would not go to such extreme measures without a valid reason for their concerns.”

The team members glanced among one another and back at Don, and a few faces softened slightly.

“Given that they have entrusted such a critical priority to this team,” he continued, “then you must all be highly skilled indeed. Despite our team’s tense and unfortunate beginning, I’m looking forward to working with all of you.”

Don caught Dr. Douglas’s gaze and tried offering her a smile, but she returned the look with a stony frown. With an inward sigh, he opened the folder that the council had given him. “We’ve been provided with a few preliminary notes on this project, and I see no reason not to get right into it. Gather round, if you would, and let’s get started.”


The hallway was wide enough for Mike to move ahead of Olivia as she strode toward her office. He opened the heavy, walnut door, paused to do a quick but thorough visual sweep of the room and stepped aside to let her pass. She sighed gustily as she let her briefcase fall near her desk and tossed her long coat onto the back of her chair. “Are the new security systems I requested installed in 613?” she asked.

“They are, ma’am,” Mike answered, “but I’m still unclear about why you want to monitor a group of researchers.”

“Because I am leaving nothing to chance, Michael, not if my suspicions are correct.”

Mike smothered his irritation with practiced ease. The director had an occasional flare for doom-and-gloom that he found irksome, but he hid his feelings behind a neutral expression and waited.

“Close the door, Michael.” As he obeyed, Olivia sat down at her desk and pulled a tablet from the top drawer, handing it to him when he moved back toward her. If she was being this paranoid, he suspected that the tablet data was encrypted and wasted no time in swiping his security keycard across the card reader. A file opened in response, and several documents arrayed themselves across the screen.

After a brief glance, he blinked and locked gazes with the director.

“I think someone is trying to hack Eden,” Olivia confirmed.

“What did the computer techs have to say?” he asked as he examined the first file in greater detail.

“You are the only person I have shown this to. I’m not even certain myself, but if it’s true…” She trailed off and gave a tight sigh. “I first noticed the irregularities in Eden’s program a few days ago. They seemed innocuous on the surface, but I don’t need to tell you what could happen if a terrorist group or a hacking collective were to take control of the most advanced and connected A.I. on the planet.”

“No, ma’am, you do not.” In fact, Mike could already feel his pulse rising just from considering the possibilities. On the surface, the world had calmed since the creation and deployment of Eden, but he knew that it wouldn’t take much to set the remaining nations of the world on full alert once more. “Do you have any leads?”

“Sarah Douglas,” Olivia responded.

Mike frowned. “The previous head of 613?”

“Before she entered medical school, she spent some time as part of a low-level hacking group. Nothing serious according to her background, no criminal charges involved, but she’s been insubordinate enough that she’s a suspect at this point.”

Personally, Mike suspected that Dr. Douglas’s insubordination had more to do with Olivia frequently running roughshod over anyone in her employ, but he kept his opinions to himself. “I’ll look into it right away, ma’am.”

“Please do, Michael.” The lines in Olivia’s face deepened as she frowned. “I don’t know if our world can survive another global conflict.”

With a brisk nod, he turned and left the office.