Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 29

“You’re the only one on the base who’s actually used it before,” Jason insisted, shoving the sword into Mike’s hand.

“Only because discharging my gun on the jet would’ve gotten everyone killed,” Mike protested, but he accepted the weapon anyway and stored it on his belt. “Stab my target with the pointy end—that’s the extent of my knowledge of swords.”

“Sounds like expert strategy to me.”

In the corridors behind them, a squad of Walter’s soldiers raced through the hall, carrying heavy equipment to use as barricades along with more explosives. The microphone in Mike’s ear crackled, but the noise of the alarms combined with the guards’ shouts drowned out Walter’s voice. “Get out of here, Jason!” Mike ordered. “Get to the shuttle. We’ll hold the lines here.”

“Not yet, I’ve still got work to do. Good luck, Agent Charles,” the division lead called as he turned and sprinted down the hallway.

Mike pressed a finger against the earpiece. “Say again, Jones, I didn’t get that.”

“I said, we’ve got ground-based troops incoming on the base,” Walter reported. “Topside surveillance is a bit sketchy, but we’re estimating a force of several thousand in the first wave.”

“Damn it.” Mike scanned the corridors for access points that still needed shoring up and directed the moving squads to them. “How long have we got?”

“About ten minutes before they reach our perimeter,” Walter said.

“All right. Keep tracking their position. The only above-ground access to the base is the hangar. They’ll have to hit us there. Send some of the carrier pilots to the hangar. We’ll use the planes’ turrets as a defensive measure.”

Walter gave a grim grunt. “Sounds good.”

Mike caught sight of several of his own men coming around a corner and whistled sharply to them. “We’ve got a repeat of the GSC lab incoming, guys. Follow me, we’re hitting the hangar.”

His men and other squads that Walter redirected to their location funneled into the hangar. As Mike surveyed the best places to station troops, pilots raced from one plane to the next. Laser targeting eyes on the automated turrets pivoted their crimson stare to the wall of steel separating the hangar from the outside world. Mike wondered how well Eden’s soldiers would be able to fight while being shredded by the firepower of twenty troop transports.

“All right, Eden’s ground forces have just stopped,” Walter reported. “They’re holding position beyond the end of the runway.”

“What are they doing?” Mike demanded.

“So far… nothing. Monitors aren’t picking up movement in the crowd. No weapons that we can see being prepared—”

Mike heard the microphone pick up another voice in the background, but he couldn’t catch the words.

“Charles, radar just picked up inbound bombers,” Walter announced. “They’ll be on top of us in four minutes.”

“Pull back from the hangar doors!” Mike shouted to the squads he’d placed near the front of the runway. “Pull back to the rear and brace for incoming!”

Echoes of running boots filled the wide chamber, and Mike took cover behind a rough barricade of heavy crates perpendicular to the east wall. His men crouched all around him, expressions taut and weapons ready.

The earpiece crackled. “Bombs in the air!”

“Heads down!” Mike yelled, and several seconds later a horrendous roar filled the air. The concrete shuddered beneath his feet as he pressed himself close to the floor. A rush of heat and force shook the barricade, and a couple of secondary crashes rang out. He cautiously raised his head and gazed out. The mouth of the hangar stood wide open, rimmed in twisted, flaming wreckage. One of the carriers had been caught by the blast and poured smoke and fire into the hangar. Through the black haze, he saw movement.

A horde of civilians approached the base. As soon as they reached the turrets’ firing range, the guns came alive. The base’s defenders held their own weapons at the ready, prepared to eliminate any targets that survived the hail of turret fire.

Mike felt sick, watching as throngs of people mindlessly charged through the demolished doors and fell beneath the sprays of bullets. Eden hurled raw numbers into their defenses, clearly trying to overwhelm them, just as he’d overwhelmed the carrier on their last rescue mission. His stomach rolled as the bodies started piling up even as those infected who still had limbs intact continued to blindly struggle forward. Innocents… every last one of them, slaves to a voice in their heads.

A hissing burst streaked into the hangar from somewhere beyond Mike’s sight. The carrier closest to the door exploded, unleashing another wave of fire and smoke. A second rocket quickly followed, missed its target, and detonated against the rear wall. The soldiers closest to the impact were hurled forward to strike their barricades, and Mike saw a few bodies littering the floor through the smoke.

Not everyone in the crowd was a civilian. Eden had armed soldiers of his own with rockets and RPGs.

Another carrier exploded, the turret fire slackened, and Eden’s hordes surged forward. Mike shouted an order to open fire, but rifles and sidearms did little but hinder the targets they struck. Slain enemies lifted themselves back up, their eyes vacant, and charged again.

“Fall back to the first shuttle bay!” Mike yelled, and the soldiers responded instantly. The remaining carriers would buy them time. As a unit, they abandoned their posts and streamed from the hangar and into the base’s tunnels.

“Outer perimeter is breached,” he reported to Walter. “Get ready to detonate the first shuttle.”

A gunshot and an answering shout drew his attention. A pair of soldiers near the rear stumbled and fell as a small group of infected, one still pointing a pistol at the fleeing defenders, seized them from behind. Mike holstered his gun and drew the sword as he rushed the assailants. Remembering Jason’s words that a scratch was enough to destroy Eden’s control, he gave a measured stab at the armed infected. The man went rigid and dropped to the ground. The soldier who had been shot struggled to rise, a young woman clinging tenaciously to his back. Mike grazed her arm, and she went limp. The soldier’s companion threw the body off him and dragged him to his feet as Mike stabbed and cut his way through the remaining infected, feeling almost relieved when they fell and didn’t rise again.

At least they were out of Eden’s reach now.

“Go, go, go!” he shouted to the soldiers, then turned and follow them down the tunnel.

They raced through an open doorway that banged shut once they’d passed it, and the soldiers braced the door with steel barricades. They were behind the first shuttle bay now. “Now, Jones!” Mike shouted.

He didn’t hear the explosion, but he felt the mountain tremble around them.


The tremor provoked a wave of panicked screams from the huddled refugees. Cries and terrified wails filled the lab as techs raced from station to station, trying to keep paperwork and samples straight. Don nearly collided with Trey, then with Sarah, the latest batch of bloodwork clutched tight in his fingers and his heart in his throat.

Since the alarms began, they’d only managed to clear about five hundred of the ten thousand and some odd survivors still remaining. Every muffled explosion, every quake that shook the base felt closer and closer. He set the tray down on the counter and collected the first sample, the seeming futility of the action causing a bitter clench in his throat.

There just wasn’t enough time to make it through everyone.

“What the hell are you people doing?” a man from the crowd demanded angrily and got into Sarah’s face. “Forget the damned tests, just let us out of here!”

Rick thrust an arm between them and forcibly pushed the smaller man back. “Sir, please keep calm,” he commanded. “Let the doctor see your arm.”

As Sarah drew the blood sample, she locked gazes with Don, and the dour look they shared drove his despair even farther within.

Less than ten thousand people, but any one of them could be a sleeper. If even one got through, then their escape was meaningless. Was he willing to risk ten thousand lives for the sake of fifty thousand, perhaps the last vestiges of all humanity?

A child sobbed behind Don, and almost against his will, he turned. A little boy, no older than six, cried in the arms of a mother whose lips trembled as she tried to calm him down. Don imagined Eden’s army swarming over them, tearing them to pieces… A family of Africans sat huddled together at the far wall. Their hands were clasped, their heads bowed. Some were crying. One of the elder men was speaking, and Don thought he might have been praying…

Thirty-nine sleepers. That was all they’d found, out of the forty thousand they’d tested. Thirty-nine. How many more could possibly remain?

“Another sample tray.”

Sarah’s voice startled him, and he turned to find her standing at his side. Feeling numb, he reached for the tray she offered. Just then, the lab jolted. He stumbled, and the tray fell from his hand. Scarlet fluid splattered the floor, his shoes, along with fragments of glass and the samples’ nametags.

“Shit,” Sarah murmured in a stricken voice.

“We can’t process all these people in time,” Don told her hollowly.

“But we…” She swallowed. “Eden… They’re all immune to the virus. He’ll kill them all… or worse…”

He put his hands on her shoulders, as much to steady his own nerves as hers. “But if we let a sleeper on board the Phoenix-3, how much is any of this going to matter?”

Sarah placed a hand over her mouth and took several strong breaths through her nose.

Don glanced at the crowd and the sea of faces. Was he willing to send them all to their deaths, to preserve those he was certain they could save?

He closed his eyes, feeling his thoughts beginning to race. “Even on a global scale, Eden’s control over those with the nanites can still be mitigated. Our signal blocking techniques proved that. Once we’re out in space, away from the planet, there’s no way Eden’s signal will be strong enough to reach the sleepers… right?”

“I…” Sarah stammered, hope kindling in her eyes. “I don’t know… but I would think…”

“I won’t do it, Sarah,” he told her with absolute certainty. “I won’t leave people to die. Not again. We’ll save as many as we can… and deal with the consequences as they come.”

Sarah nodded tensely. “I’m with you. Let’s get them out of here.”

Don marched away and spread the word to the rest of the techs that the time for testing was over. “Are you certain that’s—” Rick started to protest, but Don shook his head.

“We’re getting everyone off this planet. Now.”

The team members spread through the crowd and announced that testing was over. The base continued to shake around them, but the word that they were all leaving stirred them into action. They followed the technicians and scientists from the lab and down the halls.

“Everyone, keep calm,” Don said as he followed the route Olivia had told him to the Phoenix-3’s bay. “Stay together.” He led them to a hallway that gradually opened wider and entered a vast chamber the size of a city block.

For a moment, he gazed in awe at humanity’s last hope. On a platform several times larger than a football field sat a sleek, metallic craft tilting up toward a massive shaft carved into the roof of the chamber. Larger than four cruise ships mashed together, it dwarfed any vessel Don had ever seen.