Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 13

Don sat in front of his laptop, the screen split between a video conference call with Iris Lee and the images of Marcus Meier’s most recent CT scan. “Looks like your theory was correct,” he told her, peering closer at several patches of brightness in the image. “Has Mr. Meier’s bruising diminished at all?”

“Not yet,” Iris replied. “We still haven’t found a method to shut down the nanites, much less without risking harm to him. Chris is working on a few new approaches, but nothing we feel comfortable with testing yet.”

Sarah waved silently at Don from outside the web camera’s view. He held up a finger to her and looked back at his screen. “Keep me informed, Iris, and good work with this.”

“Thank you, Dr. Harris.” She reached off-screen, and a moment later the call ended with a faint chime.

“Mike’s back,” Sarah reported as Don closed the laptop. “He said he’s got news about the men who…” She trailed off with uncertainty.

“Who tried to kill me,” Don finished for her, amazed at his own ability to say it with such neutrality, as if it had happened to someone else. Throwing himself into his research had kept feelings he wasn’t quite ready to deal with at bay, but he wondered how long he would be able to maintain his detachment now that Mike had found something. Don rubbed his eyes, feeling the strain of exhaustion. Shaking it off, he motioned for Sarah to lead the way.

There were living quarters for the on-site staff, a recreational and fitness area, and a break room one floor above the research lab. Sarah led the way to the break area, and Don noticed, with a rumble in his stomach, the fully stocked refrigerator past a couple of circular tables and a small kitchenette. They found Mike seated at one of the tables, halfway through a banana with a pensive frown on his face.

“You okay?” Sarah asked him, crossing the room to open the fridge and pull out a bottle of water.

“Oh yeah, fine,” Mike replied, swallowing his bite and staring speculatively at the fruit in his hand. “A few more of these and I’ll fit right in with the folks I just met.”

Don sat down across from him and folded his hands. He hesitated a moment before asking, “What did you discover?”

“Well, for starters, the men who broke into the house were all part of a cult.”

That came as little surprise to Don, given the strange things all three men had said when they tried to… He shook his head. Though he had no explanation for why, the ache in his side flared up when he thought about the attack. He frowned, irritated by the pain’s intrusion, and pushed the sensation into a corner of his mind. “Why were they after me?” he asked.

“I haven’t figured it out yet. On the surface, this organization is formed of your run-of-the-mill doomsday worshippers: world as we know it is coming to an end, something better waiting for us on the other side, gods, aliens, higher plane of existence, join us and find your rightful place. That sort of thing.” Mike took a large bite, chewed and swallowed. “But the nano-virus is part of their faith. Most of the higher-ups I met or researched are infected. They say it’s a mark of favor, allows them to hear the ‘voices of the Master’.” There was a note of sour derision in Mike’s tone. “But I have a few ideas of my own about who these voices are. The cult is being bankrolled by Imperium, at least in part.”

Don started, remembering their encounter in the factory with Julian Schmidt and the circumstances that led to them finding Marcus Meier.

Sarah paused in the act of raising her water bottle to her lips. “Wait a minute… Imperium Tech is a multigazillion dollar conglomerate. Why would they have ties to a doomsday cult?”

“Nothing’s lining up perfectly yet,” Mike said. “All I’m saying is a lot of the leads I keep running down have Imperium in the shadows behind them. I may need to have another chat with Mr. Meier… provided he’s still sane enough to talk,” he added with a questioning glance at Don.

“Our signal blocking theory is proving out,” Don said. “He’s still frightened and nervous and getting somewhat impatient with all our tests, but nothing outside normal parameters for a man in his situation. We’ve made a little progress of our own, actually. We’ve discovered the source of the bruising. While the nanites are present throughout a patient’s bloodstream, they… well, for lack of a better word, swarm the area where the bruising appears. The temples, around the eyes, and a sizeable concentration near the inner ears. The bleeding is caused by them anchoring themselves to capillaries in those areas.”

“To what end?” Sarah asked.

Don gave a sigh. “If the nanites are capable of receiving wireless transmissions, then possibly to gain access to the brain or sensory organs.”

Mike stopped chewing as his gaze sharpened. “If that’s the case, could the virus cause people to hear things as well?”

“Hear things?” Don repeated. “You mean like aural hallucinations?”

“Or something even more direct than that, like for instance… voices whispering inside your head?”

Don shut his eyes and firmly closed the door on his sense of growing horror, forcing himself to think, to imagine the CT scans again and apply them to what they’d already learned. “In theory,” he answered slowly, “it is possible. Totally untested, I have to stress, but yes. Possible.”

He heard Sarah take another drink of water and twist the cap shut. “The more we learn about this,” she grumbled, “the more it makes me want to sew myself up in a hazmat suit.”

“Build one for two and I’ll come join you,” Mike said with a half-hearted smile.

A buzzing in Don’s coat pocket made him jump until he realized it was his phone. He pulled it out, saw that it was Connor and quickly answered.

“Managed to decode the location data for that point of origin we lifted,” the young tech told him warily, “and you might not like it.”

“Hold on, Connor,” Don instructed and motioned for Sarah to shut the door of the breakroom. Once he heard the lock click in place, he set the phone on the table and switched to speaker. “All right, go head. Agent Charles is here as well.”

“Hey, chief,” Connor greeted. “What did you find out from crazy-land?”

“I’ll tell you the story later,” Mike stated. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve been doing some digging into the nanites’ programming. Long story short, all we’ve been able to extract is a data set that I had to run through several systems before I figured out that they’re MGRS coordinates that I’m almost positive pinpoint their manufacturing facility. It’s an automated assembly plant just on the outskirts of Brooklyn. The sign out front says Colexar Industries, but I did some more digging. Guess who owns the plant?”

“Connor, you’ve been watching too many thrillers,” Mike grumbled. “Just tell us.”

“Imperium Technology, by way of a couple dozen shell companies,” Connor answered.

Mike scooted back from the table and hung his head. “What’s the address?”

Once Connor had rattled off the address, Don ended the call and motioned for Sarah to open the breakroom back up. “You were right,” he told Mike. “Everything leads back to Imperium.”

A startled yell from Sarah made Don spin in his chair, and he saw Trey trying to push past her with an open laptop clutched in his hands. “Trey, what the hell—” Sarah demanded.

“Sorry, Dr. Douglas, but you guys have to see this right now,” Trey urged, looking nervous as he set the laptop on the breakroom table. A news stream showed a gathering that seemed like a press conference. Three people stood before a wide podium on the steps of what looked like the UN building, and Trey turned the volume up so that they could hear what was being said.

The current speaker was talking in what Don thought was German, and a running translation appeared along the bottom of the screen.

“…believe that it is in the best interest of our nation, and the world, to come together under a single voice of leadership. We sincerely hope that others will follow this example, in order to put the wrongs, the tragedies, the inhumanities behind us once and for all…”

“What’s going on, Trey?” Don asked him.

Trey pointed at the current speaker. “That’s the UN representative for Austria. The Swiss rep finished his speech before I got up here, and the Australian rep is going next, but it’s all the same. They’ve just announced that they’re ceding control of their governments to the Eden AI.”

Don’s eyes grew wide. “But… Eden is an advisory program, not a policy or decision-making—”

“There was another nuclear threat made against the EU this morning,” Trey said, interrupting him. “People are freaking out, so… they’re calling for unification across all world governments to combat the threat. They want to put Eden in charge.”

They continued to watch in mute astonishment for several minutes, until Don felt a tug against his shoulder and turned to see Mike with a tight-lipped look of deep concern. He put his mouth close to Don’s ear. “Before I got assigned to your protection,” he whispered, “Olivia gave me an assignment to investigate a possible attempt at hacking the Eden program. That’s what first put Imperium on my radar. First the nano-virus, then the hacking, and now this…”

“You think Imperium is trying to use Eden and the virus to take control?” Don asked, fighting to keep his voice a whisper.

“What else does one of the richest corporations on the planet have to do with their day?”