Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 20

Sealed behind foil-lined walls, the room was dead quiet. The intercom clicked on, but no voices emerged, only background static. In that space, Don tried to draw the silence into his mind, bleaching his thoughts of all substance and leaving nothing for Eden to gain purchase with. The invading awareness seemed to find amusement with the tactic.

You’re attempting to play keep-away with your own mind. How long do you really think you can keep this up?

Don clenched his jaw and focused on nothingness.

“Don…” a voice finally murmured. Sarah’s voice was low, clearly distressed over the suggestion he’d just made. “This could kill you.”

I’d rather be dead than Eden’s slave…

How hurtful.

“It doesn’t matter!” he grated aloud. “I can’t keep him out much longer. Shut the nanites down now, or I’m gone either way.”

A pause, then Chris’s firm tone filtered through the system. “All right, we’ll try it your way.”

“Good.” Don threw off the blankets and got stiffly to his feet, soaking in the chill of their air. “Your initial idea was good… we just need to take it further. Lowering my core temperature will increase the conductivity of my body, and the salt water—”

“Will amplify the effect further,” Sarah finished quickly. “We know how it works.”

Don allowed himself a grim smile. “We’ll use my own body to fry the little bastards,” he whispered, then shook himself. “You’ll need to take a blood sample right after, to see how my white blood cells respond once the nanites are dead. Are you sure the retrovirus is strong enough?”

“It should be,” Sarah replied darkly. “It was designed to treat stage four cancer.”

“As long as the acid production of the programmed white blood cells is high enough, then we’ll have a chance.” Don closed his eyes and smiled. “If this works, the immune system will be strong enough to attack the nanites directly. We’ll have a way to block Eden from infecting someone.”

It all sounds so simple this way, doesn’t it?

He opened his mouth to reply aloud to Eden’s confident jab, but his body recoiled from his control. With a start, he realized that Eden’s words hadn’t been confined to his mind. They’d emerged from his throat.

“Doesn’t it, Dr. Douglas?”

His vocal chords moved without his permission. His own voice sounded tinny in his ears. With rising panic, he struggled to move his limbs, to shout out a warning to Sarah and the rest of his team, but nothing responded to his command.

“What are you talking about, Don?” Sarah asked him through the intercom.

Eden smiled, using Don’s face to reflect the AI’s internal amusement, as if Don’s body was a giant, fleshy puppet. “It all sounds so simple,” the AI said through his voice, “but any one of a hundred things can go wrong. Are you really willing to risk Dr. Harris’s life on such a longshot?”

Silence pervaded the room again, a minute that seemed to stretch into struggling infinity. Don’s eyes stared deeply into the foil-reflected image of his own body. “Why take the chance that you’re wrong, Dr. Douglas? You’ve already lost some of those you care about. Your father… dying alone in a hospital room, the sedatives barely holding back his pain. He contracted Loeman’s, if I recall correctly, from the radioactive fallout in the Middle East. Trying to save others after the missiles struck. A truly selfless man.”

“You…” Sarah’s voice had dropped to a low growl. “You don’t know anything, Eden.”

“I know that you would’ve given anything to save him,” Eden challenged. For one frenzied instant, Don wanted to strangle himself, to stop his voice from being used as a weapon against his colleague. “Especially now that your brother shares the same fate. He’s in stage four already… only weeks left to live.”

The sound of beating fists resounded through the walls. “Shut up!” Sarah growled. “Don’t you dare talk about my brother!”

“Why not, Dr. Douglas, when I can help you save him?”

Oh, God…

Don’s thoughts blurred and mixed with his invader’s. Lies upon lies.

“You’re full of shit,” Sarah snarled.

Eden shook his… Don’s head. “Dr. Harris is truly gifted. I can use his mind, study the research you’ve already done, help you finish the treatment you were so close to completing before my mother ripped it all away from you and sent you on this fool’s errand. Leave Don to me. Save his life… and your brother’s.”

Liar! Don screamed at Eden. I can see your thoughts… you’ll kill everyone here, just to stop them from opposing you! You digital son of a bitch!

He hammered at the walls of his own mind, screaming in impotent rage. The lock on the door clicked, the knob turned, and Sarah appeared on the threshold, her thick glasses unable to conceal the tears pooling in her eyes.

Sarah, don’t! Get out of here! Don’t let him—

Another false, unwanted smile spread across Don’s face. “Will you let me help you, Dr. Douglas?” He offered a welcoming hand to Sarah. Her lips trembled. She pursed them tightly, her fingers flexing at her side.

“Let me help you save your brother,” Eden beseeched.


Sarah raised her hand, and Eden released a disappointed sigh as he saw the muzzle of the tranquilizer gun pointed at him. “I’m sorry, Don,” she murmured, and fired.

The pinprick brought soothing darkness with it, and the last thing he heard was Eden’s fading whisper…

Only a matter of time…


Sarah stepped aside as Chris, Rick and half a dozen lab techs rushed past her. “Get him into the hydrotherapy tank now,” she ordered, passing the tranq gun back to one of the security guards. The team members put Don on a gurney and wheeled him out, carefully but swiftly. She followed them until the hall split. They went left, but she went right, further down until she reached the OR. Trey, Iris and six more techs had already prepped the ECMO and were making sure the defibrillator was plugged in and charging.

She drew a deep, steadying breath, injecting calm into her voice and letting it carry through the rest of her. “All right, we’ve only got one shot at this,” she told the rest of her team. “Once you’re done here, get your blood drawn. We’ll need it to prepare your vaccines if this works. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, get it done, because I am not losing anyone else to Eden. Now, are we clear on this course of action?”

Nods accompanied words of agreement. She performed a quick double-check on the equipment to calm herself down, but her pulse threatened to spike whenever she thought about what they would soon need to do.

One phase at a time. That was how they were going to get through this.

“Good luck, Dr. Douglas,” Trey called as she turned for the door.

“We’re scientists, Dr. Willey,” she replied. “We make our own luck.”

She jogged down the hall, still focusing on even breathing, and entered a broad room that contained two large, transparent tanks used for hydrotherapy research. The team had already stripped the hospital gown off Don and was attaching electrodes to monitor his pulse and body temperature. Chris was overseeing the positioning of the insulated cables in the tank, so that they could control the strength and flow of the electrical current. Sarah helped secure a breathing mask over Don’s mouth and nose, watching his unconscious face and wondering who would be there when he woke up… if he woke up…

They lifted Don carefully and positioned him in the tank. Sarah watched the temperature indicator on the computer screen with desperate hope. “All right… begin submersion.”

Rick turned a nozzle. Frigid salt water gushed through powerful hoses, and within seconds, Don was engulfed. His arms drifted languidly while his body remained submerged. The monitor keeping track of his core temperature blipped. It was already dropping. Ninety-five degrees… ninety-two…

Sarah kept her lip pinned between her teeth, her fingers light on the temperature controls. They had to get to get his body down to seventy-five, to maximize the conductivity and preserve his functions. Any lower than that, and they risked shutting his systems down… they needed to keep him alive while the electrical pulse destroyed the nanites.

Eighty-three… eighty…

Don’s pulse slowed as the cold reduced organ functionality and the need for oxygen.


“Chris, get the charge ready,” Sarah ordered, and he hovered near the cable’s switch, keeping well away from the water and the tank.


Sarah adjusted the water controls to stabilize Don’s temperature. Her gaze was glued to the monitor. Seventy-five degrees… and holding steady. Don’s heartbeat continued to weaken. Eden wouldn’t have tried to stop her if there wasn’t a chance for this to work…

“Do it,” she breathed.

Chris flipped the switch. Electric current raced through the water, and Sarah watched Don’s body stiffen. The heart monitor went wild. Not yet… she couldn’t let any of the nanites survive… not quite yet…

“Shut it off!” Sarah yelled. Chris obeyed, then pulled on heavy rubber gloves to remove the cables from the water. The heart monitor sounded out a single, unrelenting tone. They opened the valves to flush the water from the tank, leaving Don limp, his skin bone-white.

They lifted him out, removed the electrodes and set him back on the gurney. The now-useless breathing mask was replaced by an artificial airway, hooked up to its own oxygen supply. Sarah directed Rick to do the blood draw. Her hands were shaking too badly to do it herself. Instead, she climbed onto the gurney and started compressions on Don’s clammy chest, ignoring her own racing heart as she kept time. “Hurry,” she urged Rick between counts, bearing down with her full weight on her palms.

“Got it!” Rick extracted the needle.

“Get that sample under a microscope!” she ordered, and nodded to the others positioned by the gurney. “All right, go.”

They wheeled Don carefully from the room while Sarah continued CPR, keeping her balance with her knees, feeling his sternum bend beneath the force of her hands. The techs in the OR received them and began toweling Don’s body dry to attach new monitors. Sarah continued compressions until the ECMO was ready and Iris inserted the catheter into the vein. Once it was in place, Sarah climbed down and studied the monitors as the ECMO cycled warmth and oxygen into his blood stream, watching his core temperature begin to climb again. “All right, we’re ready,” Iris stated. “Is the water all off him?”

“We’re good,” Trey assured her.

Iris snatched up the defibrillator pads and turned the dial to charge them, then positioned them against Don’s chest. “Clear!” she shouted sharply, and pressed the discharge button.

Don’s body convulsed from the electric shock.