Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 23

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Don murmured, looking at the tray of vials that contained all the stable vaccine the lab had been able to produce under the greatest pressure of their lives. He reflected on the sometimes circular way necessity worked as he thought about Chris, Iris and the two young lab assistants now lying under sheets in the laboratory morgue. If he’d known how quickly they could’ve perfected a working vaccine…

No. To think like that would be to cheapen their memories. They’d all done what they thought was necessary during a time of significant risk, and out of the price paid, a new necessity had arisen that led to the unprecedented triumph now sitting in front of him. Instead, he swallowed back the loss and grief, silently promising to find a way to honor his fallen colleagues once the world was no longer falling apart. He informed Director Woods of their success and advised her on their next course of action.

“We can start vaccinating people on the campus with what we have,” he said, “but this facility doesn’t have the means to mass-produce the vaccine. We need to get it into the hands of as many companies as we can.”

“I have contacts at FEMA’s regional office in the city,” Olivia said. “They’ll be able to send the vaccine on to the appropriate facilities.”

“Eden’s sure to have…” Mike paused for a deep breath that still sounded rather hoarse. Don would’ve preferred to keep him on oxygen for a while longer, but the agent had stubbornly refused to rest once his airways had calmed. He shook his head at Sarah when she laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’m fine,” he answered her unspoken question. “Eden’s sure to have agents on the campus now. We need a way to get the vaccine to the FEMA office without him knowing. I’m going to talk to my guys, see what we can come up with.”

Mike crossed the room to where the security guards stood watching the door. Sarah’s faintly worried gaze followed him before she turned back to Don and Olivia. “We can’t do anything right now for the personnel Eden’s infected,” Sarah said. “Not until we start inoculating more people against his control.”

Don nodded. “We’ll go building to building and find all those who stayed indoors and kept away from the viral smoke.”

“Not alone,” Olivia asserted. “Eden’s agents may attack you. Have Mike send as many security guards with you as he deems prudent.”

With nods of agreement, they separated. Sarah went to gather a few team members to assist with the vaccinations, while Don rejoined Mike. As they were discussing the logistics of their rescue mission, one of the guards led a younger lab tech over.

“We might’ve just found a solution for getting the vaccine to the FEMA office,” he reported to Mike.

“I’ve got a recreational drone, sir,” the young man put in respectfully. Don hadn’t spoken to him much directly, but he recalled that the tech’s name was Justin. “In my apartment here in the facility. The GSC authorized it.”

“What’s the range and carrying capacity?” Mike asked.

“About 75 miles, sir, and roughly 25 pounds.”

“That’ll definitely get us there.” Mike turned to Don. “Will that be enough to hold a package?”

Feeling relief well up inside him, Don nodded and smiled at Justin. “More than enough. Hurry and get it.”

They assembled a small, well-padded package to hold a few master vials while Don explained their delivery mechanism to Director Woods, who was already speaking to someone from the FEMA office on the phone. Once they coordinated the drop zone, they secured the package beneath the drone, and Justin brought it to the roof of the lab to launch it.

Don, Sarah and a few lab assistants assembled in a tight group, ringed by Mike and his security team. Since they were now vaccinated against the virus, they didn’t bother with hazmat suits but kept a wary eye on anyone who approached. The gas-spewing container had already been cleared away, but anyone who had come into unshielded contact with it and the white clouds needed to be treated with caution. They made their way to the buildings furthest from its landing site and started the inoculations.

Don had been expecting their visitations to be met with questions or demands for explanation. Their absolute obedience had surprised him, until he realized that the GSC’s personnel were trained to follow such orders. They made swift progress, passing through almost half a dozen well-staffed buildings until their supply was exhausted and they needed to return to the lab for more. Anyone who hadn’t received an injection was ordered to stay indoors and await the lab workers’ return.

They were nearly back to the lab when Don’s phone rang, and he answered it quickly. “I’m almost at the building, Dr. Harris,” Justin reported.

Mike accompanied Don to the roof while the rest went inside to resupply. They clustered around the young man, gazes glued to the screen that showed the drone’s camera view. The One World Trade Center loomed steadily larger. The drone’s view swiveled, showing the lighted streets and the pedestrians walking by.

“All right, I see the street entrance,” Mike remarked, pointing a fingertip close to the screen. “Director Woods’s contact should be waiting. Look for a man wearing a black overcoat and a red tie.”

Don leaned closer, scanning the view intently as the camera zoomed in. The streetlights were starting to come on, and light poured from the glass lobby doors, creating a confusing array of light and shadows. “Wait… there he is,” he said at last.

“Got it,” Justin said, his fingers making delicate, precise movements. “All right, bringing her in…”

The man on the street looked up directly into the camera as the drone swooped in and began its descent. Don saw him flash a thumb’s up and reach up to grasp the package on the underside of the drone—

The screen went dark. “What the hell?” Justin exclaimed, slapping the control’s casing.

A brilliant flash lit the far horizon, transforming the evening into a burst brighter than sunrise. A firelit, dome-shaped cloud ballooned over the surface of the ground. Don’s mind rebelled from what his eyes saw. No… no, it couldn’t be…

“Get back inside now!” Mike shouted, and grabbed Don by the arm. Stirred from his shock by the urgency in the agent’s voice, Don raced for the door that led back into the building’s stairwell. Three different sets of footsteps echoed chaotically against the concrete, and he heard Justin muttering startled expletives above the noise. As they ran, Mike snatched up his phone. “Get all building personnel into the basement levels!” he ordered. “A nuclear bomb has just detonated in New York.”

More footsteps raced into the stairwell below them, and the occasional shout drifted up. Don’s heart raced, and he struggled to keep his footing. They exited the stairwell into a level deeper than he’d ever gone before, several floors below the labs. Rows of cubicles were crammed with people talking over one another. Security guards talked rapidly into their headsets, their guns gripped tightly. Don followed Mike blindly, and occasionally individual sentences drifted up from the sea of noise.

“Are we sure it was nuclear?”

“Do we know where the epicenter was?”

“Can someone confirm the affected area?”

From across the room, Don saw Sarah break away from a knot of lab workers and race to join them. “What the hell’s going on?” she demanded. “Everyone’s saying that a bomb—”

“We saw it,” Mike replied tightly. “Where’s the director?”

Sarah didn’t answer, just pointed down the hallway with a hand that trembled, and trailed after them mutely.

Olivia was standing in front of a large screen affixed to one wall with a row of computer terminals around it. She pinned Mike with a frantic look as the agent approached. “I’m trying to get President Schwab online. We’ve got confirmation. It wasn’t a missile. It was a nuclear bomb, ten-megaton yield, detonated somewhere in Manhattan.”

“God,” Mike breathed. “Has the evacuation order been given to get people away from the fallout?”

“The first thing we did was hit the alarms,” Olivia replied, and turned back to the monitors. The feeds were coming online, but everything was laced with snow. “What the hell’s wrong with the monitors?” she growled at the computer techs.

“Ma’am, there’s…” One man’s face drained of all color. He switched on another screen, showing an overhead view, possibly from a satellite camera, of plumes of fiery smoke billowing from the ground. “It’s only about thirty seconds on the delay, ma’am. That’s… that’s Washington D.C.”

Don leaned hard against a cubical wall, staring at the rising fireball.

“The network is buzzing, ma’am,” another tech seated at a terminal reported with shock. “Official messages are pouring in.”

“What are they saying?” Olivia asked.

The man swallowed hard. “That they surrender,” he replied fearfully. “They’re handing control over to Eden.”

Don buried his face in his hands. He couldn’t look… the rational part of his mind still functioning knew it was absurd, but the rest of him thought… if he didn’t look… then it couldn’t be real…

But he couldn’t stop the flood of information from reaching his ears.

“Director, we’re detecting more missiles in the air!”

“What are their targets?”

“China… the Ukraine… Great Britain… basically, anyone who hasn’t surrendered to Eden yet…”