Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 25

The atmosphere in the crowded jet was subdued and sorrowful. Outside the windows, the world was shrouded by night, offering little in the way of comfort or direction, and for untold minutes Don found himself unable to look away from it.

It had all spun out of control so fast. Over the course of a day, he’d careened from hope to hope, believing that they were gaining ground on their enemy, messily but with steady progress. Despite all the danger, the loss, the sacrifices, the fear, he’d thought they were assembling the weapons needed to combat Eden’s control. They’d been trying with everything they had to fight back…

But it had all come too late. They were refugees from their own world now, fleeing a force that possessed absolute control. Where could they possibly go where Eden wouldn’t find them? What would he do to them when he inevitably caught up? Was a missile already locked onto the jet, pursuing them through the night?

The darkness of the view was devouring. With effort, Don turned away and numbly pushed his way through the press of GSC employees and security personnel, seeking familiar faces.

His team members were spread out amongst the crowd, some singly and others in small groups. He spotted Rick deep in conversation with some of Mike’s men, his expression stoic and hard. Trey was sitting on the floor between the aisles, head buried in his hands. Don touched his shoulder, and the young man looked up at him with reddened eyes. Neither of them spoke. There was simply nothing to say. After a minute, Don moved on, and Trey covered his face again.

Connor, Mike’s tech expert, wandered through the crowds like a shocked ghost, his face devoid of expression. Don saw others just like him, too distraught to react yet, disbelief in their eyes. Others were cresting high on tides of bitter emotion. He heard more than one muffled sob within the press of people. Mourning for their loved ones in New York, killed in Eden’s attack, or fearing for those they’d left behind on the GSC campus, or simply facing the seeming impossibility of the end of the world.

In others, Don saw anger, a seething rage at the enemy who’d just bested them and forced them to run. Those people spoke in low voices with tight, punctuated gestures. He wasn’t surprised to see many security personnel among their numbers, but more than a few of Director Woods’s personal staff shared the same sentiment.

About halfway up the plane, he found Mike and Sarah leaning against the wall together, her head resting lightly on the agent’s shoulder. Her glasses were off, and her eyes were moist and bloodshot.

“If it’s any comfort at all,” Mike murmured to her, “it would have been extremely quick.”

She gave a tense nod, her lower lip quivering. Don could tell she was fighting a losing battle against tears. “I really do hope so,” she croaked. “She would’ve been with him… they’d have died together…” She pressed a hand over her mouth and sniffed hard.

“What’s happened?” Don asked.

Sarah couldn’t force out an intelligible answer.

“Sarah’s mother and brother were in Manhattan when the bomb went off,” Mike explained for her. “He was in hospice care at the time.”

Don shut his eyes as a wave of sympathy broke over him. “I’m so sorry, Sarah.”

“He was… already dying,” she rasped. “Maybe it’s better… but my mom… oh God, if I’d known what Eden was about to…”

Don motioned her closer and hugged her tightly when she complied. Her body shook hard as a sob burst from her, her arms rigid around his neck. From over her shoulder, he looked at Mike. The agent’s eyes were downcast, and he shared that faint look of incredulity that Don had already seen in others. “What about you?” he asked. “Any family in New York?”

Mike shook his head. “They’re all back in the Midwest. Communications are down so long as we’re in the air so I don’t know…” He sighed and rubbed a hand over his mouth. To Don’s eyes, he seemed lost and dispirited for the first time since they’d met.

Giving Sarah one last squeeze, he disentangled himself from her grip and gently pushed her back toward Mike, who put his arm around her shoulders. “I’ll be back,” Don promised and moved off without any clear direction. The fog of emotion was thickening again, and he needed to get free of it for a moment. More grief and shock surrounded him, and he fled from it, trying to find some sort of course, anything to cling to. The crowd thinned a little the closer he came to the front, and he spotted Olivia.

The director of the Global Security Council looked like she’d aged twenty years in a few hours. Her ramrod-straight posture was hunched in her seat, her chin in her hand as she gazed disconsolately out the window. She looked over as he drew nearer and resumed her stare into the darkness beyond.

For a while, Don had no idea what to say. All of their previous disagreements and arguments seemed pointless in the light of what had just happened. While they’d seldom seen eye to eye, she’d at least been proactive from the start. When she’d recognized a threat to the stability of the world, she’d brought him in and set him to work to stop it. She’d had a plan then…

“Where do we go from here, Olivia?” he asked her frankly.

“The jet is taking us to Saint Thomas,” she replied, “in the Virgin Islands.”

“Why? What’s there?”

She inclined her head in his direction but didn’t look at him fully. After a heavy pause, she sighed. “Project Exodus.”

Don frowned. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mike approach.

“When the war in the Middle East reached its peak,” she continued, “we all feared that…” She drifted off with a quiet headshake. “A final contingency plan was drawn up and quietly put into place, in case the localized exchange of nuclear weapons spiraled into something more… global. For almost twenty years we have been building the largest space faring vessels in human history, with the belief that we could relocate refugees to a base on the moon if needed… or farther, if the devastation was great enough.”

Don thought he’d moved beyond the ability to be shocked after the mushroom cloud had swelled above New York. Instead, he felt his eyes widening. He glanced at Mike and saw disbelief, mingled with the beginnings of outrage.

“Even when that conflict ended, the preparations continued,” Olivia said, either ignoring or not noticing their reactions. “The base has been in a state of readiness ever since. Before we took off, I…” She swallowed. “I activated the Exodus protocol.”

“The Exodus protocol?” Don repeated. “What does that even mean?”

“It means we’re running away,” Mike growled. Don blinked at the barely restrained anger in his voice. He’d never heard Mike speak like that toward his employer. Olivia also looked at him in surprise, wincing when he suddenly bore down on her. “After everything that’s happened, we’re just going to pull up stakes and run?” he demanded. “To goddamn outer space? Give up Earth to Eden? We’re going to let that digital bastard win?”

“Michael,” Olivia stated hollowly, “he’s already won.”

“Bullshit!” Mike nearly shouted. “We’re alive. We have the vaccine. We can go underground, form some kind of—”

“Some kind of what?” Olivia challenged as a fire ignited in her eyes. “Resistance? Eden controls the entire world’s nuclear arsenal. He has decimated the ruling governments of every nation that opposed him… including our own.” Her tone hardened as she got to her feet and faced her furious head of security. “There is no place on this planet where he can’t find us, where his agents won’t be able to search. We can’t form any kind of resistance if we’re being constantly hounded, with eradication or assimilation the only possible outcomes. The only we option we have is to take what remains of humanity somewhere he can’t follow.”

Mike shook his head stubbornly. “We… we can’t… We can’t just leave Earth.”

“Yes. We can. We must.” She rested a hand on his arm. “And we’re going to, as soon as we’ve gathered as many people as we can possibly take with us.”

Don let out his breath in a long sigh.