Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 7

Mike backed up as Don and Sarah leapt into action, batting possibilities between them about how to keep the nanites causing the virus from deteriorating. Sarah’s previous vitriol seemed to have been forgotten completely. In the end, Don was forced to inject a sample of the patient’s blood into a small vial of a chemical solution that Mike found unpronounceable. It prevented the nanites from disintegrating further, but it rendered the sample inert to further testing.

“At least we have evidence of this discovery,” Sarah said. “Now, nobody can tell us we’re off our rockers.”

“That does little good if we can’t figure out how to counter these things,” Don muttered, frowning as he stared at the sample vial resting on the table in front of them. “We have to study it in action, figure out what it’s doing to people…”

Mike let the rest of the words drift away, his own thoughts racing. A nanotech virus. Someone had created this, and then released it into a world that was already trying to come apart at the seams. He could think of only a few reasons why anyone would do this, and none of them were good.

He thought back to the investigation that Olivia had assigned him to. Could this be related somehow? If someone was trying hack the Eden A.I., they could potentially gain control over all of the world’s remaining governments. This virus could be another link in that chain of control.

At the very least, it was a possible lead. Mike turned his focus back to the present and realized that Don and Sarah were still speaking animatedly with each other. “Until we know more about who created this virus and what it does,” he told them both, “I’d keep this information between us for now.”

“How is keeping the team in the dark about the nature of the virus going to help us find a cure?” Don demanded.

“Your team is comprised of biologists and scientists, not tech people,” Mike argued. “While that’s not my area of expertise either, I may be a bit closer to it than either of you. Let me chase down a few leads and see what shakes loose.”


Mike spent the rest of the time in quarantine either dozing, brainstorming or on his phone, communicating quietly with various members of his team. They’d been dissecting the attack’s security footage and surrounding data and discovered something interesting. The techs had logged a surge in data transmission across the GSC network that coincided with the time of their patient’s collapse. The memory of Vic’s blank stare continued to nag at Mike as well. The idea that Vic was being controlled was almost too frightening to contemplate, but at this point Mike couldn’t afford to dismiss any possibility.

“Did any of our external network connections experience the same spike?” he asked Connor, his lead data technician.

“I’ll need to check and get back to you on that, chief,” Connor answered.

“Then do it. Also, get me the name of the company that supplies the mainframe.”

“Oh, no need to wait for that. It’s Imperium Technology. I’m on the phone with one of their reps at least five times a day. They’re pretty much the go-to company for all of the networking and advanced tech across the entire campus.”

Mike’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Really,” he said. His mind switched gears. “The Eden A.I… that was created here on site too, wasn’t it?”

“Correct, but why?”

“Can you find out if Imperium supplied any hardware for Eden’s creation? It might give us something more concrete to work with to track down our potential hacker.”

“Wait, you…” Connor’s voice shrunk to a whisper. “You think Imperium had something to do with the hack?”

“That’s what I pay you to find out, Connor. Get to it.”

No one present at Vic’s rampage had manifested symptoms by the following afternoon, and they were cleared for release. Mike got through clearance first, and after making sure that Don would be the last one processed, made a beeline for the security office and checked in with his team. He booted his computer up and searched for any connections between Imperium and nanotechnology. All the company’s press releases for the last decade spoke about nanites being the next great leap in fields ranging from medical treatments to advanced tech repair, but nothing official had ever come to market.

A sharp knock on Mike’s desk drew his attention, and Connor dropped a load of print-outs in front of him. “Confirmation was easy,” the lanky tech said. “Almost every major component in Eden’s processing core is stamped with Imperium’s logo.”

Mike leafed through the stack of papers, skimming the literature and order forms for anything notable. One name appeared on most of the sales paperwork. “Who’s this Julian Schmidt?” He peered closer at the title that came after. “‘Corporate liaison’? What the hell does that mean?”

“It’s conglomerate-speak for ‘high-powered salesman’,” Connor replied. “He brokered most of the deals for the tech that Imperium sold to the GSC.”

“Get me his contact number,” Mike said, rising from the desk chair. “I need to get back to the research lab.”

“More babysitting duty?” Connor called after him.

Mike cracked a sideways grin as he left the office. “Maybe…”

Sarah was already gone by the time he returned to the research lab, and Don was in the midst of addressing the team members who’d shown up to work in shock at a lab mostly devoid of equipment. He gave them the broad strokes of last night’s events and shared with them the initial findings from the autopsy report, but the details regarding the nanites were carefully omitted. As soon as the meeting broke up, Mike motioned for Don to join him in the hallway.

“What happened to those leads you were chasing?” Don asked. “I don’t like keeping my team in the dark like this.”

“I may need your help in running a few of them to ground.” Leaving out his investigation into the possible hacking, he explained his suspicions regarding Imperium, their connection to the development of nanotechnology and their high degree of involvement with the GSC. “I’m going to make contact with one of their top liaisons,” he said, “but in order to get him interested in talking, I may require a bargaining chip.”

Don frowned at him. “I don’t understand. What kind of bargaining chip could a tech conglomerate executive—” He stopped and blinked in shock. “You mean the nanite sample?” he demanded, pitching his voice low.

“You catch on quick, Don,” Mike replied, suitably impressed. “Look, before you protest too much, let me assure you first that I have no intention of letting that virus change hands. Call it a fact-finding mission to see if Imperium really is interested in developing nanotech, or if they’ve already progressed further than they’ve let on.”

“Why risk the sample at all?” Don asked. “Couldn’t you use, I don’t know, some kind of decoy substance? Dr. Douglas was right. Even inert, this is our only evidence of the virus’s human origins.”

Mike shook his head. “Their liaison will want confirmation of the nanites’ presence before they give any information away.”

He watched Don purse his lips in frustrated thought. “Two conditions then, Agent Charles,” he stated firmly. “One, you help me secure a live patient so that my team can make some actual progress toward a treatment for this virus. I don’t care what you say to Director Woods, but it needs to happen.”

Mike kept a straight face, but once again his opinion of Dr. Harris rose appreciably at the almost mercenary manner he used to secure his own objectives. Silently he waited for the second condition.

“And two, you take me with you to the meeting, because there is not a chance in hell that I am letting that virus out of my sight after what we went through to secure it.”

“Fair points on both ends, Don,” Mike answered. “All right, it’s a deal.”

A few minutes later, his smartphone buzzed in his pocket. Connor had sent him a text containing Julian Schmidt’s direct contact number.


Evening had just fallen as Mike’s car maneuvered over the asphalt streets around the factory district outside the city limits. Ostensibly, Imperium Technology controlled most of the automated buildings within the complex, and the navigational program directed the vehicle to the appointed meeting place.

Mike and Don clambered out of the car and approached the large, blocky, concrete structure. “Strange place for a clandestine, fact-finding meeting,” Don muttered with reservation.

Mike was inclined to agree and subtly checked the pistol tucked in the holster beneath his jacket. Looking about for any cameras or security patrols, he pushed open the factory door and led the way inside.

The interior was well lit, and an army of robotic arms pivoted smoothly across conveyer belts, positioning, soldering, and stamping the thousands of computer chips that rolled down the assembly line. A man stood to one side of the rows of automated workers, awaiting their arrival. He wore a navy-blue business suit and a black overcoat to ward off the evening chill. His light hair was combed to the side and the look in his blue eyes seemed flat and suspicious. “Mr. Charles?” he asked with a faint German accent.

Mike recognized the voice as the one he’d spoken to on the phone that afternoon. “Mr. Schmidt,” he replied.

“Who is he?” the Imperium liaison demanded, jabbing a finger in Don’s direction.

“My associate, Dr. Harris, here to verify the presence of the nanotech virus.” He nodded to Don, who withdrew the vial from his pocket and inserted it into a handheld, holographic micro-imager. A collection of thin, focused lasers drew images of the inert nanites in the air for everyone to see.

Julian Schmidt’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Where did you find this?” he asked.

Mike shrugged. “We acquired it. Tell me, is this Imperium property?”

“I wouldn’t know. We have been working on prototypes of this technology for years. Without much success.”

“Uh-huh. Then, I guess you would be interested in gaining possession of our… acquisition.” He studied Mr. Schmidt’s face. It seemed uniformly pale, and a fine beading of sweat had broken out over his forehead. His eyes blinked frequently, a sign of potential nervousness.

“You said you were willing to trade this… object for information,” Mr. Schmidt said. “What is it that you want to know?”

“There have been data leaks across the GSC campus over the last couple of weeks,” Mike answered, ignoring the curious glance Don threw his way. “Since Imperium is responsible for our data protection, I want to know: who’s been hacking our system?”

“What do I look like, Mr. Charles?” Julian scoffed. “Tech support? Give me the vial, and perhaps I can look into the matter for you.”

Mike shook his head. “That’s not the way this works, Mr. Schmidt.”

“Then I am afraid we are at an impasse—” The rest of the words choked off as Julian Schmidt went rigid. All traces of belligerence drained away from his expression as he smoothly drew a gun from his coat pocket. Mike shoved Don away, pulled his own weapon from its holster, and fired before the liaison could get a shot off. Julian stiffened and fell backwards. Mike kept his weapon trained on the prone figure as he approached the body and knelt next to it, vaguely aware that Don was gasping and trying to form words somewhere behind him.

The sweat on Mr. Schmidt’s forehead had traced a streak of red across his temple. Mike withdrew a handkerchief from the dead man’s pocket and wiped away a sizeable patch of pale concealer from the spot. A vivid bruise appeared beneath the layer of make-up.

“He’s… he’s infected!” Don gasped.

Mike didn’t respond. He holstered his gun and withdrew Mr. Schmidt’s phone. Narrowing his eyes, he reached into a jacket pocket and withdrew a small encryption breaker, attaching it to the phone’s power port. The phone flashed for several seconds before the lights stilled and the main screen opened. Mike thumbed through several of the most recent texts.

One, from someone named Marcus Meier, caught his attention.

Julian please, they know. The board found out about my infection. They know! Come to the house please, I need your help!