Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 9

“It’s strange,” Don remarked as he and Mike stepped through the security checkpoint in the research facility lobby the following morning. “I’ve been so eager to share this information with the rest of the team, but now that we’ve decided to, I feel reluctant. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, and the implications of this are more alarming than I could have imagined.”

“It could be worse,” Mike answered. He pulled out his buzzing phone and stared at it soberly. “You could be the one who has to tell Director Woods all about it.”

Don winced with sympathy. “That’s very true.”

Mike lifted the phone to his ear, nodding toward the elevator as he waited to accept the call. “Go on. I’ll catch up with you once this is finished.”

Don rode the elevator down to the subterranean floors, feeling wrung out and short of sleep and more than twice his age. He gulped down the last dregs of his coffee and threw the paper cup in the nearest trashcan when the elevator deposited him on the proper floor. Activity within the laboratory was already in full swing. All team members were present, bent over various pieces of equipment or typing notes at work stations. Dr. Douglas looked up as he entered, pushing her glasses back into place, and stood up to join him.

“How’s Mr. Meier?” he asked her softly.

“Still calm and cooperating. We’re monitoring the progression of the bruising, and he’s scheduled for additional tests this afternoon. And this was waiting for me when I came in.” She handed over a manila folder. Don flipped it open and saw that it contained several faxed copies of various medical print-outs. Dr. Douglas had already gone through each and highlighted the relevant details. “It confirms what we suspected.”

“Every case we requested?” Don asked.

“Without exception.”

With a sigh, he added the folder to the pile of papers already tucked under his arm. “Yet another puzzle piece. All right, time to inform the troops.” He set the entire pile down and raised his voice. “Excuse me, may I have everyone’s attention, please?”

The lab technicians responded crisply and gathered around Don and Dr. Douglas. He looked at everyone’s expectant faces and swallowed one last time.

“I know the last few days have been very… eventful,” he began, to a general response of assenting murmurs. “I wanted everyone to know that despite all the disruptions, progress has been made in making sense of, well, what we’re up against. What we and the rest of the scientific community have believed to be a biological virus, is, in truth, man-made.”

A ripple of frowns and puzzled glances moved through the researchers and technicians. Don nodded to Dr. Douglas, who immediately began passing out short stacks of gathered notes and data. He explained about discovering the possibility of the nanites during their autopsy of Vic Maruso and how their existence had been confirmed once Marcus Meier was brought in. “Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented nature of this… nano-virus,” he continued, “there is still much that we don’t know.”

“This… this is a joke, right?” Trey was staring at the data in his hands, and Don noticed the edges of the paper trembling. He looked up and glanced around wildly. A number of his colleagues mirrored his expression. “It has to be… right?”

“It’s not, Trey,” Dr. Douglas told him. “I wish to God that it was.”

“There is no denying the truth of this,” Don stressed, “and the sooner we all accept it, the sooner we can start helping people. We don’t yet know the transmission vectors, or what effect these nanites can have internally, aside from the band of bruising around the eyes and temples. This is what we do know so far. Somehow the nanites can produce a protein that allows them to masquerade as red blood cells. That is how they are able to go undetected by the immune system. And, despite how quickly the virus has traveled, so far it has only infected those with AB negative blood. Whether this is by design or not is still unknown. The fact that this is the rarest blood type does not mean that we are going to treat this as anything less than a full pandemic.”

“Dr. Harris,” Chris said. “How are we supposed to cure a disease that’s not even a disease?”

“These may be machines, Dr. St. John, but they are behaving very much like a virus. Understanding and combatting viruses is part of our job, and we are going to do that job, whether or not someone engineered our target.”

The meeting broke up, and dozens of individual conversations sprang up in its place. Don and Dr. Douglas circled the room, speculating with and encouraging the rest of their colleagues. It was easy to begin jumping to fearful conclusions, but they reminded each other and themselves that they were scientists. If they were going to help those suffering from this infection, the worst thing to do was allow emotion to sideline their reason. It didn’t matter who made the nanites. They were going to stop them.

Don felt a hand on his arm and turned sharply to see Mike. “Olivia’s calling the full GSC in for a meeting this afternoon,” the agent said. “She wants you to present your findings thus far.”


The representatives’ expressions of concern closely resembled those of Don’s team members as they paged through his discoveries. They asked far more questions than he had answers to, and at times their anxiety led to sharp reactions, but, unexpectedly, Director Woods came to his defense. “Dr. Harris and his team have done what we have asked them to,” she told the other representatives. “However alarming this information is, they have given us knowledge about the threat we face.”

The holographic sphere that represented Eden seemed to tremble. “This is indeed alarming, Director Woods,” it affirmed. Don was somewhat unsettled by the sound of fear in its voice. Though he reasoned that a diplomatic intelligence program couldn’t be effective if it was unable to emote, he felt that no computer should be able to mimic human emotional responses that well. “If word of this reaches the public, it could cause a mass, perhaps even global, panic. Several governments connected to my network are already on the verge of crumbling as is. We can ill afford another potential threat to global stability.”

“My team is doing everything it can to find a cure to this engineered virus,” he assured the council as a whole. “Perhaps through our research, we can also assist in discovering who is responsible.”

Director Woods held up a hand. “Your fervor is appreciated, Dr. Harris, but concentrate on the former. Our security and intelligence agencies will be informed of all of this, and they will uncover the source of this attack.”

“You were the right man for the job, Dr. Harris. Whatever resources you need, you have merely to ask,” Representative Dumont added.

“That is very generous, Representative Dumont.”

“Generosity has nothing to do with it.” The Frenchman’s eyes were deadly serious. “It is a matter of survival.”


Rather than being sent back to his hotel, Don was granted the use of a private residence for the remainder of his stay in New York. Judging by the size of it, he suspected that it was used for high-level visits, but he found little to complain about once the GSC-licensed car deposited him at the house. It was tasteful, fully stocked and most importantly, quiet. He realized that he’d barely left the laboratory in the last three days, and fatigue was starting to weigh him down.

Letting hot water pour into the master bathroom tub, Don turned toward the mirror and gazed at his own reflection, startled by what he found. His blond hair was unkempt and in need of trimming, and his hazel eyes appeared sunken. Not at all the picture of professionalism that he normally strove for. He shut the water off and eased himself into the tub, trying to let the hot bath erase the stress of the last few days.

He might have dozed off, because he lost sense of the passage of time before a sharp clatter from somewhere in the house startled him. Cooling water sloshed on the floor as he started, and he tried to push past the noise of the ripples to listen.

The sound wasn’t repeated, but Don quickly toweled himself off and threw on a robe, his pulse still thudding. Beyond the master bedroom, the hallway was a solid black. He was almost certain he’d left a light on elsewhere in the house. He disliked stumbling around in the dark in an unfamiliar dwelling. His heartrate spiked, and he searched for his phone. Director Woods had eased up on her previous order to Mike to follow him around, but the agent had given Don his cell number anyway.

“Just in case,” he’d said.

Don snatched the phone from the dresser and searched through his contacts.

Something heavy slammed into him from behind, knocking him into the chest of drawers. He lost his grip on the phone as he fell face-first into the furniture, followed by a thick arm that slipped around his neck while fingers clawed through his hair.

“The voices of the master have deemed you unworthy,” a grating voice rasped in his ear, and the arm clenched.

Desperately Don tried to shake off the grip. He seized a lamp that had been knocked over and thrust it over his shoulder. The base struck flesh, and the grasp on his neck dropped with a scream. Don scrambled to his feet, coughing and wheezing from just that momentary constriction of airflow, and dashed from the bedroom. His damp feet skidded on the hardwood floors as he ran. He heard someone behind him, chasing him through the blackened hall. His foot caught on the sharp edge of a wall and nearly sent him to the floor again, but he kept his balance and ran.

A glint of metal in the dark froze his blood, and a shadow rushed to meet him. Instinctively he ducked, then plowed forward, slamming his shoulder into someone’s midriff. He tried to push them away from him, shove them into something, but they caught the edge of his robe and yanked him back. “The voices of the master reject you,” a different voice growled.

Don writhed and twisted in another strong grip, and a sharp pain radiated from his side as he broke the hold. He ran again, clutching his side and feeling wetness around a gash in the robe, while stumbling blindly into further darkness. He’d been grabbed in the kitchen, he was pretty certain. The den was in front of him… the long couch, the coffee table. The car was still in the driveway. If he could get to the front door—

Someone shoved him hard into the wall, knocking the breath from his lungs. They spun him around, pressed his chest against the solid barrier. He coughed, trying to get air back, and the flood of pain in his side made him dizzy. Someone’s hot breath was on the back of his neck. “The voices of the master command your death,” a third voice hissed, and every muscle in Don’s body seized with fear.

A gunshot tore through the room, and the grip on his back slumped. Two more blasts of sound rang in his ears. He heard the thuds of bodies hitting the floor. Someone grabbed his shoulder and he tried to push them away.

“Don, hey, it’s Mike! You’re okay now. You’re okay.”