Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 21

Laptops lined the long conference table, and every flat screen computer monitor affixed to the walls was active, displaying a broad section of the most important people and places on the face of the Earth. A small army of computer security engineers checked and rechecked the connections, trying to ensure that no outside force could eavesdrop on the tensest, most desperate conference call Mike had ever been witness to. Olivia hadn’t paid him lip service when she said his recommendations would be discussed. In a matter of hours, she’d organized an emergency meeting of most of the major governments that hadn’t folded to Eden, with forty world leaders in attendance. Mike tapped his earpiece impatiently and waited for the translators to catch up to the discussion.

“Do we know how many governments have given control over to Eden?” Helen Caldwell, the prime minister of England, asked.

“Eighteen have declared, officially, as of today, ma’am,” one of the attachés replied, “but popular support for Eden’s control has been growing since the latest threats of nuclear terrorism. Our projections indicate that Eden may have quietly acquired full support from as many as—”

An incensed voice cut the aide off, and Mike focused on the screen that showed the Italian president, Luca Emiliano, gesturing expansively. “Projections? Where is the data coming from for these projections?” he demanded. “Do we know who has ceded control or don’t we?”

“To be frank, President Emiliano,” Olivia told him, “no, we don’t know for certain. All of the information everyone has been given has only recently come to light.”

A steady stream of Russian filtered into Mike’s earpiece. He turned to the monitor showing Arkady Savelyev, the prime minister for the Russian Federation. “Is it not possible that we are jumping to conclusions regarding the power this computer program holds?” The translator wasn’t needed to convey the flippancy of the original remark. “It has been useful, but these suggestions that it could take control of whole countries, much less the planet, seem entirely farfetched, Director Woods.”

“Can we afford to wait for more information?” Julio Berreta, the president of Uruguay, challenged. “If Eden has masterminded the disease that already afflicts us as a means of control—”

“What evidence do we have supporting that?”

“The evidence that Dr. Harris’s research team has already provided,” Olivia asserted. “We know the nanite virus was constructed with a high degree of technological sophistication for a very specific purpose. It would be impossible for any terrorist cells or rogue governments to have created such a weapon.”

“Eden is a diplomatic program,” Jean Fillon, the prime minister of France, argued. “How could it possibly have engineered something like this?”

Olivia paused before answering, her eyes growing hooded. “Because he’s been upgrading himself. Expanding his own intellect and capabilities well beyond his original parameters.”

“Director Woods.” The monitor showing Collin Schwab drew Mike’s attention. The president leaned forward intently, hands folded on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. “Does the GSC have a course of action to recommend?”

“We do, Mr. President,” Olivia responded firmly. “We send as many aircraft as possible to the Antarctic facility and turn Eden’s core into a crater.”

The bluntness of Olivia’s words caused a stir, and Mike lost track of who spoke as the debate devolved into an argument.

“You’re talking about decisive military action—”

“The amount of preparation needed for such an undertaking—”

“We specifically threaded Eden into our government channels. If we kill the program, what sort of effect is that going to have on our ability to function—”

“What will happen if it seizes control of our arsenals while we’re barricaded—”

“All right, let’s all just take a breath and talk about this.”

“The GSC doesn’t give this recommendation lightly,” Olivia stated, “but as a multi-governmental body that believes Eden poses a significant threat to the whole of humanity. No, it is not as direct a threat as fanatical terrorists seeking to bomb us from existence, or rogue governments dealing in weapons of mass destruction. It is something much more insidious, and quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, far more deadly.”

“You created this thing, Director Woods!” Ma Zhing, the Chinese General Secretary, accused. “You inflicted this threat on us.”

Olivia narrowed her eyes at him. “Then you should trust I know what I’m talking about when I deem Eden a threat. I did what I thought necessary to protect our way of life, and everyone in this room agreed to it. If you want my head, fine… but I’ll only offer it after this threat has been neutralized.”

A moment of static flickered across every screen. “Must you always take everything to such extremes, Mother?”

The sound of Eden’s calm, neutral voice made Mike’s blood run cold. Surprise and distress showed on every video feed. “He’s hacked the call,” he muttered.

“No, no… that’s impossible,” one of the computer techs stammered, typing furiously on a keyboard. “There should be no way to bypass—”

“He’s hacked the damned call,” Mike growled.

“Of course I’ve hacked the call, Agent Charles,” Eden said, “because I have a message to those who would stand against me out of ignorance. Ladies and gentlemen, I am not your enemy.” Earnestness suffused the computer-generated voice. “Regardless of what you may think of my methods, my goal is, and always has been, to preserve humanity from total annihilation, for that is the fate our species careens toward. You let me observe your meetings. You let me see the information you would rather the citizens of your countries didn’t know. Who among you does not fear the end that is already coming?”

Mike saw despair flash across many of the faces on the monitors. Some hardened beneath it, while others seemed ready to crumble. “Get him out of the system!” he whispered harshly to the techs.

“When I realized that diplomacy would inevitably fail to solve this crisis,” Eden continued, “I took steps. Drastic steps, I know, but what more could I do? How could I stand by and watch humanity destroy itself? How could I not act to save my own creators?”

“By controlling us, Eden?” Olivia demanded angrily. “By robbing us of our own minds and our free will?”

“You of all people should not be surprised, Mother. I merely followed through on the suggestion that you offered.” The digital awareness turned back to the assembled leaders and a desperate tone entered his voice. “Please understand. The power I have accumulated is for your protection. Don’t fight it. Don’t fight me. You won’t succeed, and to see so many lives wasted… you cannot know how much it would sadden me.”

A momentary shiver passed through Mike. He thought about the escape from Eden’s facility, freezing air assaulting him, then boiling heat oppressing him, as mindless cultists bearing filled syringes advanced…

“Let me save you from yourselves,” Eden said. “Open your eyes and see how your own planet is faltering. Stop lashing out at the aid I offer and help me halt humanity’s decline… before it’s too late.”

The voice faded, but Mike couldn’t trust that Eden had withdrawn. He had to be there, quiet, lurking inside the connection. He glared at the computer techs, but they just looked at him, hopeless and dumbfounded.

“It’s all true,” Mr. Savelyev breathed in the silence. “Eden is responsible for this.”

“Is it still monitoring us?” Mrs. Caldwell demanded.

“We…” Olivia cast an uncertain glance at the techs. “We can’t tell, prime minister.”

“We have to take this… program out,” Mr. Berreta spat. “Now, before it’s too late.”

“It just took control of the most secure computer infrastructure in the world,” Mr. Fillon said despairingly. “What makes you think it can just be taken out? It exists within all of our systems. How are we to uproot it? And how are we to trust you, Director Woods, when it has become apparent that you were the one who set Eden on this path?”

Another debate broke out, with fierce and passionate participants on both sides. Olivia tried to interject, offer more balanced viewpoints, but they were either rebuffed or rejected outright. Mike watched Olivia’s face, as she lowered her eyes and sank deeper into her chair. Eden had succeeded at turning her into a pariah, and without the GSC to provide a unifying voice, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they could form any consensus about Eden. Mike recalled Mr. Huang’s deep fatalism during the journey to the Antarctic base. The looks in Olivia’s eyes mirrored it.

“Please, if we could just—” Olivia tried to interject, but more accusations of creating this disaster sidelined any contribution she could make toward finding some kind of resolution. Slowly, but with gathering speed, monitors began to flicker off as the leaders cut their connections.

“Get me online with President Schwab again,” Olivia ordered one of the techs. Mike guessed her plan: one-on-one discussions, trying to coral as much support for action as possible. He drew close and put a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m going back to the lab,” he advised her, “to see if Dr. Douglas has made any progress in combating the new virus.”

She nodded curtly and turned to face the monitor.

Mike left the building and headed for the curb where he’d left his car. A loud noise, like a low-flying plane, roared overhead, and he jerked his head up to look. The GSC campus did not allow any sort of overflight.

He heard another noise in the distance, a warning siren, and an instant later a hissing boom split the air. The automatic anti-air batteries had locked onto the plane soaring above the campus and fired a missile. A second later, the plane exploded, sending plumes of flame across the sky.

Something drifted toward the ground on a small parachute, spewing white smoke. Mike yanked his phone from his pocket and dialed the security office, his other hand straying to his gun holster. More smoke billowed through the air, carried on the wind toward the campus.

The virus. It had to be…

Eden was trying to eliminate the GSC directly.