Alarms were going off and both scientists were scrambling to silence them. The two paused just long enough to stare at each other for several seconds before entering the master sequence code into the main console. Both were thinking the same thing, but neither one dared to say it out loud. Grace had failed!
The last update they had received from her was less than twenty-four hours ago. She was going to attack the compound and kill the master warlock Zeus. They both knew, but dared not say it out loud, that history was repeating itself. The last time Grace had attacked the compound, she was mortally wounded by the two women there.
It was that defeat which had spurred the latest incarnation of Grace Stevens to administer massive amounts of growth hormones, steroids and large doses of the improved serum stolen from Zeus to herself. Any of them could have proven fatal, but she didn’t care. She was going to create an invincible shifter or die trying!
Not that she could really die. At least not the way she looked at it. She could be slowed down, but never stopped. She had put everything in place to be able to come back as many times as she needed. She had also made sure that every new incarnation would be better than the one before. This time would be no different. In less than thirty days, the new Grace would emerge from the chamber, fully formed with the body of a twenty-one-year-old and the mind of a genius.
None of this made the two scientists feeling any better. This was the worst possible time for them. They were part of a trio of dedicated assistants that made sure Grace came back, every time. They were the best trained and most skilled geneticist in the world. They were highly paid and lived in complete luxury and comfort. But, even with all of that, they were virtual slaves.
The three women that made up the lab staff were triplets. They had been genetically modified by one of the earlier versions of Grace Stevens to be highly intelligent and free of most diseases. If they followed orders, nothing would change. Except now, they were under tremendous pressure to make sure the latest version of Grace, emerged as planned. Never before had they attempted to clone her and bring the new version to maturity in such a short amount of time. Thirty days was cutting it very close to the limits of their technology, but they had no choice.
Grace provided them with weekly injections that kept them from aging rapidly. She had manipulated their DNA to include a disease that brought about severe aging, causing those afflicted to die from old-age within a week. Days were like decades and weeks were like centuries, without the injections. In order to make sure the lab’s scientists remained faithful to their task of bringing the new incarnation of Grace into the world, the previous version had made sure they only had access to one thirty-day supply of the drug. After that, they would begin to age and die within a matter of days.
It was also how Grace made sure they weren’t ever going to leave. Only she knew the formula and if they left, they would never get another dose. Not that they had a chance to do so, they were followed everywhere they went and any attempts at making friends were quickly dealt with by Grace’s highly paid security team. No one on the security team knew what the scientists did, they only dealt with what they did when they left the lab. It was an easy job, as only one of the three were allowed to leave the lab at a time.
If that one did not return as planned, the other two sisters would not receive their injections either. The only possible flaw in the system was right at this very moment. The alarms notified the lab that the current Miss Grace had just died. There was a satellite relay set-up to monitor her vital signs at all times. The moment she expired, the two-hour count-down began. In the case of a malfunction, she had two hours to get to a computer and send a signal to stop the count-down. Otherwise, at the end of the two hours, she would be considered dead and the lab’s alarm would notify the scientist they were on their thirty-day window to bring forth the new Grace Stevens. Only she would have the formula for the next set of injections and without her, they would all three die.
Now was the only possible time for the scientists to attempt a revolt. If they did so, they would surely die, but there would be no more Grace Stevens. They could end the cycle once and- for-all. Possibly…they weren’t totally convinced. They had whispered and passed notes, questioning the possibility of such a plan succeeding, but none of them were totally convinced the plan would work.
On more than one occasion, Grace had left clues that there was possibly a second lab, identical to this one, with the same capabilities and the same mission. She had managed to convince the three women that in the event something happened here, the world would still get another new Grace Stevens. None of them knew if there really was a second lab, but the doubt was enough to keep them from ever trying to find out. If there was and they carried out their attempt to sabotage this one, they would die for nothing.
Two decades ago, the previous Grace had gone to the compound, and paid with her life. Now, it seemed that even the new and greatly improved Grace had suffered the same fate. It seemed impossible to the scientist, but the alarms left no doubt as to the outcome. How could this Grace have been defeated? She had her super seven and hundreds of shifters with her for the attack. It should have been a quick and easy slaughter of the old man.
First things first, they needed to get Franzee back to the lab. She was on her day off and should be in the local village shopping. Christina nodded to Helga and she typed a quick text notifying their sister she was needed immediately. She would guess at what had happened, there were very few emergencies that would require her to return to the lab on her only day off. Two of the women could begin the sequence, but it would be better if all three were there. Even a slight miscalculation could delay the results and there was no margin for error.
The lab was situated in the middle of eastern Europe and near the border of three neighboring countries. In such places, the border crossings, if there were any, were loosely controlled. The locals had been crossing back and forth between farms and villages for centuries and no one saw it as a threat to the region. This allowed security forces and supplies to make it to the lab from a variety of places with little or no questions asked.
Over the decades, the locals were paid well to not ask questions and to help keep the security forces informed. Any intruders or overly curious people simply disappeared. It was a very closed community with no reason for any outsiders to venture into this part of the world. There was very little tourism in the local villages and the area was far from any real transportation centers. Roads were small and few and even the railroad only saw trains passing through once a week.
Still, Helga was getting worried. She should have heard from Franzee by now. She decided to alert the security forces and have them bring her back to the lab. She typed another text and within seconds, she had her reply. They knew where Franzee was and they would have her back within the hour.
Good, Franzee was the one that always worried Helga. Of the three sisters, Franzee was the one most likely to do something rash. If there was one of them capable of making a run for it, even if it only allowed a few days of freedom, it was Franzee. She was the rebel of the group and once she became angry, she was capable of almost anything.
The security forces had watched as Franzee entered the market of the local village. At the end of the market, a traveling gypsy troupe had set up camp. They had quite a few trinkets and toys for sale for the locals. They also had a wagon with some of the finest handmade knives and hatchets in all of Europe. Next to that wagon was a colorful wagon advertising a fortune teller. It was into this wagon that Franzee had found herself.
The wagon smelled deeply of incense and the light was low and had a blue hue to it. As she sat down, in walked a very old man. He seemed as old as the mountains beyond the village, except for his eyes. His eyes were full of fire and seemed much younger than the rest of him.
“What is it I can do for you?” he asked.
“I am curious to see what you can tell me about my future,” Franzee said.
“But you don’t believe I can tell you anything,” the old man replied. “Why would you waste your time?”
This was intriguing to the scientist, he was right, she didn’t believe. She was a skeptic of the highest order. She had only ventured into the wagon to hear the lines. She had been to several of these types and all of them had the same act. They would tell her some very non-specific things that were going to happen to her in the future.
It was always the same. They would see she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and they would declare she would find love soon or something like that. But, this old man was different. First of all, he was a man. Always before, it had been a woman running the show. Also, this one didn’t seem to have the same lines. In fact, he hadn’t even demanded any money yet.
“Okay, let’s say I’m curious if you can actually tell me something or if you’re as fake as all the others,” Franzee said.
“Finally, some honesty,” began the old man, “if you do what you are trained to do, many will die. Their blood will be on your hands.”
This shocked Franzee. It was strangely specific. The man was hinting that he knew what she did, but without saying anything that could cause her or the security forces to feel threatened by the old man. She sat up and stared at the old man. For the first time in a very long time, she was curious. What did he know and how did he know it? Was he just guessing?
She wasn’t sure why, but she was very uncomfortable. If she didn’t know better, she’d think she had been in the same position for far too long. Her legs, back and neck all felt strained. How was that possible? She had only been here a couple of minutes.
Before she could ask anything else, the door opened and in walked one of the security team members. He was dressed in all black and wore black-rimmed glasses. He quickly took in the room and the situation and then stepped up to Franzee and whispered in her ear.
“You are required back at the lab ASAP,” he whispered.
Franzee was miffed, but she knew better than to make a scene. The last thing she needed was for Grace to get a negative report, last time she had her days off cancelled for three months.
“Why are you interfering with our discussion?” the old man asked the security guard.
“Stay out of this old man. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll forget you ever saw either of us,” the guard said roughly.
As he turned his back on the old man, he felt a stab to the middle of his back. He whipped around quickly to see the old man standing behind him holding a long thin sword. As the guard reached for his gun in his shoulder holster, he saw the tip of the blade flash quickly in front of him. He felt pain in his left shoulder. As he looked down, he saw his jacket and his holster had been neatly sliced through.
His gun had fallen to the floor and there was a trickle of blood running down his chest from his shoulder. He wanted to pick up the gun and kill the old man. He wanted to punch the old man hard enough to kill him, but he also was very aware that either action would have the sword that was dancing in front of him, running through him. He was angry, but not quite ready to die.
“Do you want to go with this man?” the old man asked Franzee quietly.
“Yes, I…need to go with him,” she answered.
“Very well, till we meet again,” the old man said.
Suddenly the blue lights of the wagon dimmed for just a second. When they came back up, the old man was gone. The guard reached down and picked up his gun and holster and tucked it under his arm, beneath his jacket. He opened the door and let Franzee walk out in front of him.
Once outside, he opened the door to the black sedan and let the scientist sit down inside the back of the vehicle. As the driver waited, he walked over to a generator sitting between the two wagons. He glanced around quickly and seeing no one near, he picked up a gas can and unscrewed the lid. He was beginning to pour the gas on the side of the fortune teller’s wagon when a very large knife was suddenly sticking out of the side of the wagon.
He turned quickly and saw the man in the next wagon standing there holding a set of beautiful, hand-made throwing knives.
“My knives are the best in the world and I’m the best in the world at throwing them,” said the man.
“Perhaps you should mind your own business,” the guard said.
“We gypsies have to keep an eye out for each other, if you do harm to one old man, you do harm to all of us. I’m sure that whoever you work for, would like to keep your business out of the local papers, so I suggest you leave now while you still can,” the man with the knives said.
The guard didn’t like it, but he knew what the man had said was true. If he created a war with the gypsies, Grace Stevens would have his head. He wanted to teach the old man a lesson, but not if it was going to get him in trouble with the boss. She had a reputation for not accepting any excuses for failures.
He screwed the cap back on the gas can and sat it back down near the generator. He slowly walked back to the sedan and climbed into the front passenger seat. It aggravated him to not be able to teach these gypsies a lesson, but there would be another day and he would make sure they paid for making him look stupid.
As the car sped away the old man stepped from behind the wagon.
“Did we find who we were looking for?” asked the man with the knives.
“Yes, we most certainly did,” answered the old man.
He reached up and retrieved the knife sticking from the side of his wagon. With a quick flip of his wrist, he threw the knife back at the other man. The knife missed the man’s face by only a fraction of an inch and stuck in the side of the knife-maker’s wagon. As he looked up at the point of the knife, he saw it had neatly cut a large spider in half. From the look of it, it was probably a brown recluse, not necessarily deadly, but it’s bite would leave you with a festering wound for weeks as it ate away the surrounding tissues.
“Thank you, my friend,” was all the knife maker said as he retrieved his knife and walked away.
Inside though, he was thinking that perhaps he wasn’t the best knife thrower in the world.