Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 24

No… it wasn’t happening like this. Not after the price his team had paid… Not after they’d come so close…

Don removed his hands from his face and watched Mike lower the phone from his ear, his expression tense. “Director,” he called to Olivia. “The security station at the front gate is reporting a crowd massing just outside the fence.”

Olivia’s brows flattened. “Demanding safe haven from the explosion?”

Mike shook his head. “No.” His gaze flickered in Don’s direction, his frown deepening. “They’re just… standing there.”

“Oh God,” Don murmured. Waiting for Eden’s command to start their bodies marching, his word becoming their thoughts, his will subsuming theirs…

“The security captain’s also asking for confirmation of the earlier biological attack against the base,” Mike continued. “Some of his men have reported hearing voices.”

They had to be told the truth… before it was too late…

“Tell the captain the base is on full lockdown,” Olivia ordered. “No one in, no one out. Tell him to quarantine anyone who’s been hearing things.”

“Director, you need to tell them what they’re up against!” Don urged. “Tell them about the virus, warn them—”

“And risk starting a panic when we’re at our most vulnerable?” Olivia interrupted with a scowl. She threw a firm nod at Mike. “Give him his orders.”

Mike’s jaw stiffened, but he didn’t hesitate to follow the director’s commands. Don took several deep breaths to calm himself down. There had to be a way past this, a way to see through the chaos Eden sought to create and find a solution. He just needed to be calm and think…

Olivia turned back to the crew manning the computers. “What about the inbound missiles?”

“Those targeting the U.K. and the Russian Federation were aborted midflight,” a computer tech replied. He typed at his keyboard, and his face fell. “They posted their surrender notifications to Eden on the network, and almost immediately the missiles detonated.”

Don clenched his fists at the final confirmation of the mastermind behind the missile attacks.

“Ma’am, a missile has just made impact in Montevideo!” another tech exclaimed.

“Where is that?” Don asked, looking around.

“Uruguay,” Mike growled, looking angry enough that Don thought he might shatter the phone in his hand. “Their capital city.”

“The Ukraine is trying to bring anti-missile batteries online to intercept the nukes,” another tech reported, typing furiously. “There’s some kind of malfunction… the equipment isn’t responding!” More plastic clacking filled the air, then dwindled into silence. “Confirm impact,” he finished mournfully. “We’ve lost contact, Director.”

One by one, country after country. The underground command center received reports of holdout countries and their desperate efforts to stay the attacks, but more missiles found their targets. Other countries posted reports of surrender. The missiles aimed at them either detonated harmlessly, or veered off into the ocean. Don watched and listened as the last countries of the world came under Eden’s control or were destroyed, and his defiance flared.

He didn’t believe for an instant that Eden would refrain from using his virus against any controlled nation. The risk of rebellion was too great. He’d spread his will over the populace and use them as puppets, as his own global army to ‘secure humanity’s future’. Don had witnessed the brutal efficiency that Eden used to combat threats. He’d watched the AI’s plans take root in his own mind. It could not be allowed to fall on billions of innocent people.

He moved closer to Olivia, pitching his voice low to avoid disturbing the techs. “We have to keep as many people out of Eden’s control as we can,” he said.

“What can we do with the vaccine?” Olivia asked, matching his tone. “Can you aerialize it, allow us to vaccinate whole regions before Eden can deploy the virus?”

Don seized upon the idea as a glimmer of hope. He stayed quiet for several moments, examining it from multiple angles, calculating the feasibility based on the vaccine’s current means of inoculation, struggling to find solutions. “I don’t think so,” he concluded unhappily. “We’d need months of dedicated research, access to more specialized equipment, and even then, the finished product wouldn’t have the same effectiveness.”

“Then we’re back to needing facilities that can mass-produce the current vaccine,” Olivia remarked. “We need to contact—”

Mike drew close to both of them. “We have a problem, Director,” he whispered urgently. “I sent some of my guys upstairs to the security office. They’re reporting that a massive crowd has assembled just outside our building.”

“Has the front gate been breached?” Olivia asked.

“Possibly. I’ve lost contact with the security captain…” Mike’s brow furrowed. “But more likely, Eden has activated those infected by his earlier attack on the campus. Our building went into lockdown after the bomb went off, but there’s good odds that someone in that crowd knows how to countermand it. If we don’t do something, we’re going to be trapped down here.”

Director Woods sighed. Don watched her blink, her eyes moving back and forth, and he could feel her thoughts racing. “Then it’s time to leave,” she said at last. “There’s access to an underground hangar on this level. I keep a jet on hand, ready to depart at all times. It should be enough to hold everyone here. We’ll evacuate the facility.”

“Wait,” Don gasped. “What about the people we’ve already vaccinated? If Eden finds out they’re immune to his control, he’ll kill them. We can’t leave them behind!”

“There’s no way to get to them now,” Olivia replied flatly. “We have to save what we can, and most importantly, we have to keep the data about the vaccine out of Eden’s hands.”

“I told you before,” Don growled. “I am not sacrificing innocent people for victory!”

“Don…” Outwardly, Mike’s expression was hard, resolute, but Don saw anguish dimming his eyes. “She’s right. We don’t have the men or the armaments to fight through a crowd of that size. We’d kill dozens only to die ourselves. We…” He visibly swallowed. “We have to leave the others behind.”

“Then let’s not waste any more time,” Director Woods commanded.

Word spread about the evacuation like wildfire. As the techs left their workstations behind and assembled in groups, Don and the rest of his team returned to the upper floors to gather as much of their data as possible. Mike sent his men to guard the front doors while he gathered a set of charges to plant around the building. “We’re not leaving anything for Eden to scavenge,” he snarled, placing a small explosive device under a counter.

“We’ll be done shortly,” Don assured him.

Mike nodded, still looking angry. “I just wish I had more than a few dozen sidearms to guard the doors with. Most of my guys are still… out there.”

Don winced in sympathy at the seething anger he heard in his friend’s voice. Sarah pursed her lips, then fled into a side office, returning a minute later with an ornate, ceremonial-looking sword. He caught sight of the profile of a lion’s head on the base as she passed it to Mike. “I know it’s not as good as a gun,” she muttered, a faint blush coloring her cheeks, “but it’s better than having to fight with your fists if the bullets run out.”

Mike accepted the weapon with a shadow of a smile. “You always keep functional swords around for occasions like these?”

“No, it… it was my dad’s,” she answered. “I forget which country awarded it to him. The lion…” Her eyes misted over, and she cleared her throat. “Well, it always reminded me of him.”

Without a trace of self-consciousness, Mike used his belt as a makeshift sheath for the sword. “As you said, better than fighting with my fists.”

Once they’d gathered the remaining vaccine vials and all their important notes, Don and his team made their way back through the subterranean levels. He felt the press of earth and concrete around them as they followed the rest of the personnel through a long, rising tunnel into the sizeable underground hanger. Though not nearly as large, it reminded Don strongly of Eden’s Antarctic facility, and an uncomfortable shiver ran down his spine as he found a place on the jet. The seats were mostly filled by the time he and his team were aboard, and people squeezed themselves into open spots on the floor or crowded between the aisles like passengers on a subway. Don pressed close to a window and watched the hangar entrance intently.

Olivia passed by him, speaking on her phone. “Activate the Exodus protocol,” he heard her say as she moved away. He frowned in her wake and returned to watching the window.

For several minutes, there was no movement. The jet engines were already thrumming, and whispers drifted among the passengers. No one wanted to leave the guards behind… but how long could they afford to wait…

“Come on, Mike,” Don murmured under his breath. “Come on.”

Black-garbed security guards backpedaled rapidly into the hanger, firing down the tunnel. Don spotted Mike near the rear of the group, motioning to his men to head onboard. They dashed away while those still with weapons covered them. At last Mike holstered his gun, turned and ran for the stairs. The door shut behind him as soon as he was onboard. “Get us in the air!” he shouted.

The plane began to move. Don saw people streaming into the hangar, but the jet picked up speed quickly and outdistanced them. The runway rose steadily until the jet passed through an open gate and he saw the twilight of the sky outside. The floor tilted under his feet. He braced himself against the wall, still gazing out the window.

The rapidly dwindling lab building ignited in a burst of sudden flame that lit the night.