Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 3

Something is off about all of this…

Don let his notepad fall against the countertop he’d been using as a makeshift desk. Every available inch was covered with print-outs and data sheets from the folder the GSC had supplied. He had read through it, front to back, four separate times, and was amazed at how little useful information could be garnered by so many sheets of paper.

Aside from its apparent virulence, nothing about this virus appeared threatening. It’s only known symptoms were a wide band of bruising across the temples and around the eyes, with a smattering of smaller splotches across the body. The uniformity of the markings made it easy to identify, and the varied geographical locations where it was appearing seemed to rule out known skin ailments or allergic reactions. Clinical data on human cases was severely lacking, which also indicated to Don that the medical community was treating this as an anomaly instead of a threat to public safety. There were no quarantines in effect, no CDC alerts that he could find, nothing.

However, the GSC was treating this disease like it was a second Black Death. If they were so concerned, why hadn’t a global alert been issued? Why were there no efforts being made to contain this?

Were they afraid of causing a panic? Were they pursuing this so aggressively as a precautionary measure? There were so many things that didn’t add up, and Don felt like he had wasted an entire afternoon chasing his tail.

He dragged his gaze away from the sea of contradictory data before him. The underground laboratory was uniformly lit, making it impossible to determine the time of day, but a quick glance at his watch told him it was late in the evening. Most of his new team members had already retired for the day, including the disgruntled Dr. Douglas. He looked at those who remained. Three men and one woman in their late thirties or early forties, no more than a couple of years older than himself. An Asian woman who was probably a bit younger, and a pair of men who looked fresh out of medical school. All of them were bent over similar sheets of paper or viewing the documents on their laptops and tablets. If their expressions were any indication, they were as baffled as he.

“They haven’t given us much to go on, have they?” Don said out loud.

“No, they most certainly have not, Dr. Harris,” one of the senior researchers agreed. He sat back in his seat with a sigh.

“It’s like they’ve given us a jigsaw puzzle to assemble and then turned off all the lights in the room,” one of the young men complained. “We need more data.”

“More specifically,” Don said, “we need to examine actual patients.” He pursed his lips in thought. “Since this is a fully functioning research facility, I’m assuming there are clean rooms for examinations and testing?”

“There are,” the Asian woman replied. “There’s quarantine housing at the far end of this floor. It’s been standard procedure for the GSC to provide a list of volunteers they have scheduled to come in for examinations. It doesn’t look like they’ve done that this time.”

The senior scientist who had spoken up before shook his head. “They don’t always, Iris.”

Don looked over and peered at the name sewn on the man’s lab coat. “Dr. St. John, is it?” he asked and received a nod in reply. “What did you mean by that?”

“The GSC only provides us with a list if they’ve organized volunteers and they’ve been vetted for security reasons. Otherwise, we’re pretty much on our own.”

“It seems awfully strange that they’d repurpose this many high-level researchers, but not get us any of what we’d really need to make progress with this disease,” Don said. “We won’t be able to get far if we don’t have samples to test. If I’m recalling correctly, there have already been reported cases of the virus showing in New York.”

Iris typed at her keyboard and nodded. “There have been, yes.”

“In that case, who’s up for a field trip?” Don got up from his chair and loosened his tie. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. “Hopefully this will be enough to entice one lucky volunteer. Where is our PPE stored?”

“Wait a minute,” a young blond technician said with a bemused look. “Are you really planning to walk the streets of New York at this time of night looking for volunteers to be examined for some infectious illness by waving a hundred-dollar bill around?”

Don shrugged. “We need data, don’t we? Do you have a better idea of how to acquire it?”

After a moment’s consideration, he chuckled. “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t, Dr. Harris. I think I like your style though.”

“Good. Then you can come along.”

The young scientist introduced himself as Trey Willey, showed him where to find the protective gear and even volunteered his car for the mission. Dr. St. John agreed to come, as well as one of the senior technicians who gave Rick Kendall as his name. The rest of the team set about preparing the quarantine rooms and needed medical equipment to begin their examinations.

Don’s new security card was waiting for him at the front desk when they arrived upstairs. He gave a brief description of their intentions to the guards, who exchanged glances with each other but offered no comments. They immediately pulled on protective gloves and facemasks, and Don got the feeling that they’d done this dance before. The four scientists piled into Trey’s minivan and let the automated vehicle drive them off of the GSC campus.


The appearance of four men in full protective gear walking the streets of New York did not cause as much of a stir as Don was expecting. Dr. Christopher St. John, who Don had learned was a born-and-raised citizen of Brooklyn, explained that it was common for people to dress up in outlandish costumes when out on the town.

“They’ll probably think we’re part of a movie promotion or something,” he added wryly. “The night culture here is fascinating, and has only gotten stranger over the last couple decades.”

While that mistaken impression made approaching random strangers easier, Don found that few people seemed willing to take their request seriously because of it. He spread descriptions of the virus’s telltale markings, and several people acknowledged having seen the marks on others, but they often balked when Don asked for names or where the afflicted could be found. Even his GSC credentials only served as reassurance to a point.

Don remained persistent, however, and eventually the effort paid off. “Yeah, I seen a guy with bruises like that tonight,” a man replied, pointing back up the street. “He was hanging out in the alley a couple blocks that way.”

The small group of scientists thanked the man for his help and followed his directions. Soon, the streetlights illuminated a scruffy-looking man with a vibrant band of facial discoloration, a patched jacket and faded jeans. His gaze twitched in their direction, and a flicker of nervousness rippled across his face. Before Don had a chance to speak, he gave a squeal and pressed himself against the cement wall. “Just… just leave me alone!” he yelled.

Don halted in his tracks and glanced at his team members in bewilderment, then held his hands up peacefully as he took a step forward. “We’re not here to hurt you, sir, we just want to ask you about the bruises on your face.”

“Not your business!” the man shouted.

“Sir, please. We think you might be sick.”

He stared at Don with fear. “What? No, I’m… I’m not sick. I feel fine. My face… it’s always looked like this.”

Trey nudged Don’s arm. “Dr. Harris, let’s forget this guy, he looks like he’s high on something.”

“Or his disorientation could be a symptom of the virus that hasn’t been documented yet,” Don countered. He turned back to the cringing man. “We can get you some help, compensate you for your time, call anyone that you want to tell them where you are—”

The infected man suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs and shoved Don hard enough to send him sprawling over the curb. The man advanced, but Dr. St. John intercepted him and pinned him against the wall. “Hey, you need to calm down!” he bellowed.

The man thrashed, but Trey seized him by the other arm while Rick helped Don back to his feet. “It hurts,” the afflicted man whimpered in a small voice, then threw his head back and banged it repeatedly against the wall. “God, it hurts!”

“Please, sir,” Don begged, “if it hurts, then let us help you.”

“Help…” His voice rose to a scream again. “Help!”

“Hey!” a new voice shouted from behind. Don turned to see two uniformed police officers sprinting across the street, their hands already on the grips of their pistols.

Trey backed away slowly. “We were attacked,” he said quickly, his voice rising in panic. “We’re just trying to help.”

“Dr. Willey, please,” Don interjected, wincing as he put his weight on his ankle. He faced the officers and held up his hands. “My name is Dr. Don Harris, gentlemen. We work for the GSC, medical research division.”

“Let me see some I.D., now,” one of the policemen snapped. Don opened his wallet and flashed the GSC security card. His team members all followed suit, while the infected man curled up into a ball at the base of the wall.

“Williams, look, it’s Vic,” the other officer said, frowning down at the man. “Looks like we’ve got to drag him back down to the station only for the bureaucrats to turn him loose again tomorrow?”

“Enough,” Officer Williams snapped, still examining the credentials.

Don risked stepping forward, describing in concise terms why and how they approached the man. “Sir, we believe he is suffering from an infectious illness that our team is trying to investigate. Do you see the bruising on his face? That’s a symptom of this disease.”

Officer Williams frowned thoughtfully. “I’ve been seeing those markings a lot lately. What is it that you want to do with Vic here?”

Before Don could answer, Vic raised his head. “I want to go with them,” he announced, his voice still fearful but his words clear. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry for yelling but… I just want the pain to stop. If you can make it stop, then I’ll go. Please… just make it stop.”

“This man needs treatment,” Don urged. “We want to provide it for him.”

“He’s given his consent,” Officer Williams replied, handing back their I.D.s. “That means he’s your problem if you want him, but once you’ve gotten him some help, then I expect you to bring him down to the station so we can book him. Again.”

“Thank you, officer.”

Vic was docile enough as they led him back to Trey’s van, and he accepted the proffered mask, isolation gown and gloves without complaint, but he resisted any attempts at further communication. The drive back to the campus was spent largely in silence, while the other team members threw reserved glances at their first live patient. The guards permitted Vic’s entry into the lab once he had been swept, but Don noticed they both spoke quietly into their communicators once the group had passed the security checkpoint.

They rode the elevator down to their floor and turned toward 613. Vic followed their lead, still occasionally whimpering to himself.

Iris and the rest of the team members looked up in surprise when they entered, but they got to their feet while Dr. St. John gestured toward the quarantine zone. “Shall we begin?”

Don was watching Vic’s face when all traces of fear drained away, becoming blank and emotionless. He felt an elbow suddenly drive into his stomach and a punch land on the side of his face as a chorus of startled shouts erupted around them.