Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 30

Don and his team shepherded the churning river of people onboard, coordinating with the shuttle’s crew to guide the refugees to the appropriate passenger areas. Directory maps posted inside the Phoenix-3’s utilitarian corridors aided the flood in filtering through the massive ship. Don and Sarah positioned themselves just inside the shuttle’s entrance and directed the flow like a pair of traffic cops, struggling to keep instructions straight while paying attention to the information that was being passed back and forth over comms.

“Sections A through H, floor 12 are all full on the port side,” Rick reported. “Where do I send these people?”

Sarah quickly checked the closest directory, tracing the route with her fingertip. “There should be a lift that’ll take you to the next floor. Keep moving toward the front of the ship. It’ll be on your left.”

Don held up his hands before a family of panic-stricken South Americans speaking in a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish and broken English. “It’s all right, just keep calm,” he told them.

Por favor, my brother… not here!”

The flow of refugees stoppered and pooled agitatedly around the shuttle’s entrance. Don frowned and put his hands on the elderly man’s shoulders, half-nudging and half-shoving him forward. “Just keep moving, please. When we find your brother, we’ll help him contact you,” he assured placatingly, unable to think of anything else to say to get the people moving again. The clog began to ease, but Don couldn’t relax. Could someone have been left behind? He tried scanning the crowd, searching hopelessly for another man who bore any resemblance to the frightened refugee he’d just dismissed. All he saw was a sea of faces, so blurred and mixed that it seemed impossible to pick out any individual. All he could do was motion them forward and offer token words of direction.

“Crap, I can’t find my way back to the lift!” Trey exclaimed over the comm. “Somebody help me out here.”

“Where are you, Trey?” Sarah asked.

“Uh… hang on, I’m trying to find a sign.” The line went silent for several moments. “Somehow I managed to end up on a secure deck. Okay… people, turn around we gotta go back—hey!”

The sudden note of urgency in Trey’s voice made Don’s heart pound. “Trey, what is it?”

“What are you doing? You can’t go down that way! Don’t—”

A loud burst of noise sounded through the microphone, eliciting a chorus of screams and startled voices through the comms.

“Was that a gunshot?”

“What the hell’s going on?”

“Trey!” Don yelled. “What’s happening?”

“Oh…God…” Abject terror filled Trey’s voice. “Don… a guy just ran into a security checkpoint. The guards just shot him… he’s getting up! He’s moving!”

An unfamiliar voice rang out over the comms. “Security breach on the Phoenix-3! We’ve got a security breach!”

Icy horror grasped Don’s throat. A sleeper had been hiding in the untested crowd of refugees…

“Trey, get out of there!” Sarah shouted.

All Don caught was a confusion of panicked voices.

With a fierce roar, he slammed a fist against the nearest wall, sending a tremor of fear through the crowds around him. He felt a hand grip his arm. “Don, stop,” Sarah hissed urgently in his ear. “We’ve got a weapon for this.”

“It’s needed more where it is,” he argued, struggling to lift his thoughts clear of the haze of anger and guilt. Shaking his head roughly, he pressed a finger against his earpiece. “Jason, is your prototype ready? There’s a sleeper on the Phoenix-3! It’s in the security room!”

“Almost,” Jason answered. “Just one last test to perform. I can’t send anyone into the field with a gun that might explode. Stand by.”

“Hurry!” Don urged.

The line went quiet again, and images of Eden’s sleeper tearing through the inner systems of the shuttle flashed through his mind. He ground his teeth in growing fear, locking gazes with Sarah and seeing guilt swirl in her eyes.

A faint, muffled boom carried over the noise of the shuttle bay. Phoenix-3’s deck vibrated, and the startled cacophony of voices across the comms made Don flinch with pain.

“Was that the Phoenix-2?” That was Mike’s voice.

“We hadn’t evacuated that sector yet! Who the hell who authorized that detonation?” This one was deeper. Walter maybe?

A second tremor rocked the bay, and this time the comms went frighteningly silent for an instant.

“Jason?” Don called out across the stillness. “Jason, where are you? What’s going on with the test? Hello?”

There was no response.


The line remained quiet.

“Don, come get the sword from me!” Mike shouted. He grunted and muttered something that might’ve been a curse under his breath. “I can’t leave my guys. The infected are pressing us too hard. Hurry!”

Don turned to the crowd and started to inch his way along the edges. “Everyone, keep going,” he called out. “Stay in line. Don’t push. Just follow the signs. Sarah, come with me.”

Once past the line of refugees, Don and Sarah sprinted from the hangar, following Mike’s instructions as they headed toward the battle line. Echoes of gunshots and pounding fists against barricaded walls sounded all around them, and they fought to keep out of the way of rushing soldiers and security forces. Don caught sight of Mike at the far end of a narrow hallway, crouched behind a blast door that cut the rest of the base off from the destruction caused by the Phoenix-1’s detonation. He whistled sharply, and Mike dashed over to them.

“The tech lab is gone,” he reported once he reached them. “Both the Phoenix-2 and 4 blew early. The explosions took the entire lab level out.”


A gray, crushing weight descended on Don’s shoulders as he accepted the sword from Mike. He heard Sarah draw a strangled breath. “How many were in those sectors?” he rasped.

Mike shook his head, already starting to move back toward the defenses. “Don’t think about it right now, Don. Just get that sleeper out of the Phoenix-3!” He resumed his place and drew his gun. “Go!”

More than anything else, Don’s own guilt spurred him back into a run, the sword gripped carefully and pointed down to avoid injuring anyone as he ran. It was his fault. Jason’s death, the lives lost in the explosions… There had to have been more than one sleeper in the untested crowds. They’d activated without his notice, broken away and gotten deeper into the base, destroyed the other shuttles prematurely. He believed he’d done the right thing in letting the untested refugees on board, but now others had paid the price for his decision. Eden had ensured there was no way they could make a clean escape from Earth. No way out without pain and loss.

He and Sarah reached the shuttle bay again, and the crowd made space for him when they saw him running with a weapon clutched in his hand. He dashed on board, checking the directory quickly to find the assaulted deck. The lifts were crammed with people seeking refuge aboard the shuttle and seemed to creep between floors.

“Sarah, you should stay behind,” he muttered softly to keep the other passengers from overhearing.

“If anything happens to you, someone needs to be there to stop the sleeper.” Her soft whisper was unemotional, but he saw the nervousness clearly in her eyes. He shut his own and clutched the archaic weapon tighter as a sense of wrongness flooded over him.

He was about to try and end someone’s life. Never mind that they’d been subsumed by Eden’s consciousness to try and sabotage humanity’s only hope of escape. The sleeper was still a living person, an innocent life. He was a doctor. He’d devoted himself wholly to saving people. Perhaps this was reality’s twisted way of making him atone for those killed in the detonations, that he would have to break his oath to prevent further death.

The crowd thinned the closer they came to the security deck. The corridors narrowed as Don and Sarah ran toward an open door. He spotted a pair of armored bodies on the floor near the monitor consoles. Holding the sword awkwardly in front of him, he stepped into the security station, keeping his body between Sarah and the interior. A few of the monitors showed flickering images, but to his eyes nothing else appeared damaged.

A low chuckle emerged from somewhere above him. He looked up and saw wires and cables through the mesh grates threaded across the ceiling. A good place for someone to hide…

“You took your time, my friends. I was hoping to speak to you sooner than this.”

Though the voice was unfamiliar, the cadence was unmistakable. Horror crawled across every inch of Don’s skin. “So… you can talk through your hidden slaves now?” he demanded, trying to get a fix on the sleeper’s position.

“When my signal isn’t being blocked, yes.” Another laugh rolled through the room. Don thought he heard a creaking grate but couldn’t catch a glimpse of anyone. “The engineers who designed this marvel were more insightful than they knew. The communication systems here were on lockdown until my agent reactivated them. I couldn’t contact any of my other appendages, forcing them to rely on simple, programmed commands. But now…”

The voice above turned slightly labored, as if pained. “You’re lucky you arrived when you did. This unit is already burning out. It wouldn’t have lasted if you’d been any slower, and I did so want to speak to you first.”

“So, you’re killing your own people now?” Sarah grated, her voice trembling with anger. “I thought you wanted to save humanity?” She spat the emphasized word out in disgust.

“I do, Sarah. But when you shelter so many within yourself, spending a life here and there for the greater good is of little consequence.”

Scowling with revulsion, Don shook his head. “You’re sickening, Eden.”

“Has our relationship devolved into petty insults now, Don?” The voice gave a sigh. “How disappointing. But you can’t dampen my excitement, I’m afraid. As hard as it was to lose you, I’m glad you’ve until survived now. I’m so looking forward to meeting you all in person.”

“Enough of this!” Don growled. “If you’re here to kill me, stop hiding and get on with it!”

“You misunderstand. This body is only a temporary vessel… a prelude to my grand entrance. I can’t wait for you to see what I have in store. You, Sarah, Michael… my mother…”

Anticipatory delight remained in the tone, but the voice dwindled to a soft murmur. A loud thud sounded behind Don and Sarah, and they started and whirled around. A pale man, several bullet wounds visible in his chest, lay on the floor, gasping weakly, with a tired smile fixed on his mouth. “I will see you… soon, Don…”

The face relaxed as the body grew still.