Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 22

Air wheezed through Don’s chest. Sarah frowned at him as she waved a temporal thermometer across his forehead. “I’m fine,” he rasped, wincing at how unconvincing he sounded. He took an experimental breath. His airways still felt a little constricted and his throat slightly raw from being intubated, but the pressure was manageable.

Sarah pulled back the thermometer. “Fever’s going down,” she reported, relaxing her shoulders. “The vaccine appears to be working. How do you feel?”

“Sore,” Don reported. His chest felt like a mass of aching muscle, and he almost relished the sensation. “Alive. And…” He tapped the side of his head. “Alone. Thank you, Sarah.”

She made an assenting sound as she checked his blood pressure. “What was it like?” she asked softly. “Having Eden… inside your…”

Don closed his eyes and turned away. “Imagine your consciousness,” he replied lowly, “being shoved into a tiny corner of your mind while you’re watching something else stand in its place. You feel them inside you, through you, just… wearing you, like a cheap suit…” He opened his eyes, made a fist, released it, just to prove to himself that he alone controlled his body again. Sarah didn’t ask more questions, turning her attention to checking his vitals.

Mike’s loud, urgent voice called for Sarah. “I’ll be right back,” she told Don and left the room at a brisk trot. He hesitated, then painfully pulled his rumpled shirt on and followed. Mike stood in the main laboratory hall, surrounded by almost a dozen agitated lab workers.

“…not ready yet, Mike,” Sarah was saying.

“We’re out of time! Eden’s spreading the nanites across the campus—” Mike broke off when he caught sight of Don, his eyes widening. “You’re out of quarantine. The virus?”

“Gone,” Don assured, his voice still hoarse as his gaze traveled across the room, “though we had to take some… drastic steps to remove it.”

Several team members gave snorts or tense chuckles.

“Whatever you did, do it again,” Mike urged. “A plane just dropped a canister that’s spewing smoke across the GSC. We’ve got people trying to contain it, but we need protection against the virus, and we need it now.”

A spike of adrenaline shot through Don’s systems, dulling the innumerable aches. “Wait, what?”

“Are you sure it’s the virus?” Sarah demanded.

“We can’t afford to waste time that it’s not!”

“Mike, you don’t understand,” Don insisted. “We have the first iteration of a vaccine, but it’s limited, untested and unstable. If we start administering it in its current form, it could kill people.”

“If you don’t, then Eden gains control of them!” Mike looked around the gathered lab workers and researchers. “You have to protect yourselves. All of you. If we lose you, there won’t be anyone left who can stop him.”

A green light began to flash in every corner, accompanied by a high-pitched, insistent buzz. Don didn’t recognize the warning, but alarm rippled through the assembled scientists. “What is it?” he demanded.

“Foreign agent detection alert,” Chris replied anxiously.

“Something’s gotten into the air filters!” Trey exclaimed.

“Everyone, calm down,” Sarah ordered, her gaze fixed on Don. “What do we do, Doctor?”

Don knew immediately why she left the choice to him. He was the only one among them who knew the full consequences of what they faced, of what would happen if the virus penetrated the lab. The risks of something going wrong with an unstable vaccine were terrible… but so was the fate that would befall them if they held off. “My recommendation is that everyone take the vaccine,” he replied. “We all know the risks, but we’re out of time. Stay calm, and we’ll get through this.”

“What form does the vaccine come in?” Mike asked as Iris headed to retrieve the vaccine. “Injection? Oral?”

Sarah shook her head. “Your own blood, actually. We had samples from everyone who works in the building for security reasons. We injected the base retrovirus into the blood samples to reprogram everyone’s white blood cells to fight the nanites. Now we’ll inject the cultured blood back into ourselves to teach the rest of our body how to do that. In theory…”

Iris returned and placed five small, labelled vials on the counter. Rick and Trey carried over plastic trays with sterilized syringes. Gloves were passed around. No one spoke. Their movements were brisk, their expressions nervous but focused. Most performed their own injections before turning to assist those who still needed inoculation. Mike rolled up his sleeve and presented his arm to Sarah once she’d injected herself. “Can’t let you take a risk if I’m not willing to do the same,” he told her.

With a tight smile, she inserted a needle into his arm. When she was finished, Mike moved toward the door as if to go, but she caught his arm. “Absolutely not,” she stated firmly. “You’re staying right here.”

“I have to get back out there and help with the containment,” he insisted.

“Do it from here,” Don interjected. “She’s right, you need to stay here where we can monitor you.”

Mike frowned, but he pulled out his phone and began speaking into it rapidly.

It didn’t take long for the vaccine’s symptoms to show. Several of the technicians developed fevers, their faces turning pale as their immune system reacted to its new programming. “It’s learning to recognize the nanites as a threat,” Don explained as a way to keep Mike engaged and his own mind focused. “The proteins they used to disguise themselves can’t hide them anymore. Now, when the virus enters your system, your body’s defenses will start attacking it immediately.”

“Fascinating,” Mike muttered, his breath sounding a bit labored, but he shook off the concerned hand Don placed on his shoulder. “I’m fine. Just… do what you need to do.”

Some of the symptoms worsened. Sarah and Trey were among the least affected and hovered anxiously around the few whose fevers intensified. Don was finishing a check on Rick’s vitals when out of the corner of his eye he saw someone collapse.

“Iris!” Chris rasped fearfully, swaying as he tried to kneel beside her. Iris’s face had gone red, her mouth open and moving but Don couldn’t detect the sound of any breathing.

Sarah crouched next to her as her eyes rolled back. “Her airway’s completely sealed. Get her to the OR, now!” They loaded Iris onto a gurney and wheeled her out of the room, but by the time they’d returned, three more researchers, including Chris, had collapsed.


The monotone drone of an EKG filled the silence of the room. Don ordered it shut off and draped a sheet over Chris’s still face. The techs wheeled the gurney away to join the other three covered bodies in the adjoining room. “Don?” Trey asked hesitantly from the doorway.

“What is it, Trey?” he replied dully, blinking hard.

“Director Woods is here.”

Don grimaced as he yanked off his gloves and stalked from the room. Of course she was. How else was this day going to get worse?

Director Woods seemed to be in the midst of a heated argument with Sarah when Don entered the room. “I just need to know if this vaccine will work if someone has already been infected!” Olivia insisted. “A simple yes or no.”

“There is no simple yes or no, Director!” Sarah exclaimed. “We’ve barely got a functional vaccine as it is, much less data on whether the retrovirus could reprogram a body that’s already under Eden’s control. We’ve already lost four people out of the twenty-seven who’ve received the injections. We simply don’t know—”

“Fine!” Olivia shrugged off her jacket and unbuttoned the cuff of her sleeve. “Then do it now.”

“What are you doing, Director Woods?” Don asked her. “Didn’t you just hear what Dr. Douglas said? Four people are dead. The vaccine has a 14.8% lethal failure rate, and in its current form is too unstable to be relied upon. My team needs time to reiterate—”

“Dr. Harris,” Olivia stated flatly, “you will inject me with the vaccine, or I will have you forcibly removed from the GSC campus.” As if to punctuate her point, the two security guards at her back reached into their jackets.

Intense anger built in the pit of Don’s stomach. He glowered at her. “You would threaten me,” he demanded, dropping his voice low, “during a crisis like this?”

She met his gaze with an even stare. “Yes. I am threatening you, because I am a grown woman who is cognitively sound and capable of making informed decisions about my health. I will not be made a slave to a program that wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t helped design it. I understand the risks and have chosen to face them.” She presented her arm to him and refused to budge.

With a scowl, Don retrieved her cultured blood sample, uncapped a syringe, filled it and injected the crimson fluid into her skin. “You will need to stay,” he informed her stiffly, “so that we can monitor you.”

“I’m well aware of the protocol.”

Don opened his mouth to retort but a deep gasp cut him off. He saw Mike stagger and lean against a nearby counter, his chest heaving. Sarah got her arm around his back, but she buckled under his weight when his knees gave out. Don rushed to his side and helped hold him up. “Easy, Mike,” he urged. “Just breathe.”

“Can’t,” Mike wheezed. Don felt heat pour off him through his shirt. “Chest… so tight… can’t…”


Though it took less than fifteen minutes by the clock, it felt to Don like it had taken hours before they got Mike stabilized, combining cortisone with antihistamines in an IV to relax his air passages. Don judged a ventilator wasn’t necessary, though they kept an oxygen mask on Mike’s face.

Olivia hovered in the doorway, present but unobtrusive, watching intently as Mike’s condition improved. Don forgot his anger enough to rest a hand on her shoulder when she finally entered the room. “He should be all right,” he assured.

In the sudden rush to get Mike stabilized, he realized he hadn’t been monitoring her reaction to the vaccine. Her breath came in tight bursts, but it seemed normal enough, and she didn’t object her temperature being taken. Only slightly elevated. He nodded with satisfaction.

“We have a starting point now,” he mused to the team members gathered in the room. “With the current vaccine, we can engineer safer, more preventative measures.”

“Why take the time?” Olivia asked. “The vaccine works in its current form. We need to start distributing it to the populace immediately.”

Frowning, Don shook his head. “It’s too dangerous, and time consuming. We would have to get a blood sample from everyone on the planet and then culture them all. Besides, as you’ve seen yourself, the reactions to the vaccine can be lethal. The number of casualties it would cause… it isn’t worth it.”

“Eden isn’t just using the virus to control people, Dr. Harris,” Olivia said. “He’s using them as extensions of himself. To exist beyond the bounds of his digital birth. If enough of his host bodies die in rapid succession, it could overload his systems and kill him.” She pinned him with a fierce look. “We could free mankind from his control and destroy our nemesis at the same time.”

“At what cost? You’re talking about hundreds of millions dead, and we don’t even know if that would actually cripple his systems! Absolutely not. Our work will not be used for reckless slaughter.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Said work is owned by the GSC, Dr. Harris, and I am its director. I can use it however I deem necessary.”

Sarah glared at her. “Not if you can’t make more,” she stated, “and you won’t, because I’ll destroy the vaccine and its formula if you try this. I’d rather let Eden win, than allow our team’s sacrifices to be used to perpetrate the largest mass murder in human history.”

Every face in the room hardened against the director, reflecting their silent agreement. She released a frustrated sigh and waved her hand. “Then get back to work,” she growled as she left the lab.