In Europe there was another person working hard to take down the next version of Grace Stevens. He was the edge Zeus needed. The master warlock knew nothing of the help he was getting a continent away, nor was he likely to believe it when he discovered who was helping. He had no idea now, but Zeus would know soon enough.
The winter was mild this year in the far western reaches of Hungary. Warm air wafting up from the Adriatic Sea was keeping things pleasant. For two months now, one of the triplet scientist, Franzee, visited the gypsy fortune teller in the village every time she got a day off. She still wasn’t convinced they were real, but she had become addicted to the old man’s predictions, or possibly the old man himself.
She was lucky they were still around. It was very unusual for a gypsy troupe to overwinter in a village like this one. Most spent their winters further south along the sea, while a few drifted Southeast toward the Aegean and Black Sea regions where Europe and Asia came together. Gypsies seldom had nationalities and they drifted where the weather was good, and the locals would pay for their goods and services. They had learned long ago not to stay in any one place too long.
The security detail that followed each of the scientists’ every move had paid several visits to the fortune teller to discourage him from seeing Franzee. Each time they either found no one in the camp or they were met with more than enough resistance to send them running back to the lab. Since Grace wasn’t fully aware of what was going on yet, they had decided to let it be. They weren’t getting anywhere with the little old man and each meeting he managed to make them look worse than the one before.
They figured the troupe would move on in few weeks and that would be the end of it. Gypsies never stayed anywhere too long. At least, that’s what the security team was counting on. They had tried bugging Franzee’s handbag and coat, but each time she entered the fortune teller’s wagon, the bugs suddenly stopped working. As soon as she exited the wagon, they worked fine. The security team was beyond frustrated.
As Franzee entered the tiny Hungarian village known as Felsoszolnok, she couldn’t help but marvel at how Grace’s ancestor had chosen one of the most perfect places to hide in plain sight. The village of less than a thousand people was the only population in the region. The lab was less than a half mile from the Slovenian border and only a mile from the Austrian border. With papers showing citizenship in all three countries, new versions of Miss Grace could easily disappear in any country of her choosing.
Since the lab was in the Hungarian National Orsegi Nemzeti Park, they were left alone. It was a national park that received few visitors and provided the maximum amount of privacy for a multi-billion-dollar lab situated in the heart of central Europe. Built to look like an old farmhouse, the bulk of the lab was deep underground. There were more than ten thousand square feet of lab and living space under the farmhouse. The security forces occupied the farmhouse and the adjacent barn, but rarely ever entered the lab complex below.
Adding the “improvements” to the new Grace had been extremely time consuming. None of the three women had managed a day off in the last three weeks. Helga and Christina didn’t seem to mind the long hours and little time off, but Franzee was different. It drove her crazy if she went too long without a day off. It had gotten even worse since she had met the old man in the fortune teller’s wagon.
She was drawn to him like a moth to the flame. They had never had an ‘intimate’ moment, but she was still connected to him in a way she had never experienced before. It was like she could tell him anything and there was never any judgement. In fact, she didn’t have to tell him much, he seemed to know most of it before she ever opened her mouth. She was now convinced the little old man really could tell her future and read her mind.
As happy as she was to be seeing her fortune teller, Franzee was also worried. It was late in the afternoon when she finally finished the genetic sequence she had been working on for Grace. She knew she should wait until the morning, but she couldn’t resist. She’d been cooped up in the lab for far too long. Most of the security forces at the lab were shifters and several were allowed to remain out at night for security reasons. If she was out past moonrise, she might as well remain in the village. That would cause her a great deal of difficulty with the new Grace.
This new, adult Grace was proving to be a handful. She was much more demanding and even a little paranoid as compared to her predecessor. If the new genetic modifications took hold, she would be impossible. None of the trio understood where she got the genetic material, but the splicing seemed to be working. If it did, Grace would not only be able to shift into the largest werewolf in the history of the world, but in the light of the day she could even transform into a giant owl or a pool of crystal clear water!
Rather than being excited the three women were mortified. Deep down, in each of them, there had been a glimmer of hope that they might one day be free to live their lives the way they wanted too. When the previous version of Grace had been killed at the Vancouver warlock compound, each of the women saw it as a sign she wasn’t invincible. Grace might live forever through her constant reincarnations, but the three women would not. They were already in their late forties and soon they would be of no use and Grace would discard them like garbage and they knew it.
The current Grace was already working on automating the lab, so the scientist would no longer be needed. Once the modifications were complete, she planned to test the system by producing several new ‘super’ shifters that had similar abilities to her new ones. If the system could produce those hybrids with only inputs from a computer and not Grace or the scientist, she would no longer need the three women. Each one of them was sure Grace wasn’t going to keep any of them around for sentimental reasons.
Even if the current Grace could somehow be defeated like the last one, the three women still had to deal with the aging genes they had been infected with. Without the injections Grace provided, they would be dead in a matter of days once the current ones wore off. Deep down, Franzee was enough of a rebel to consider making a run for it anyway. She was more then willing to die for the chance at a few days of freedom, but she wasn’t willing to sacrifice either of her sisters to do it.
Franzee was finally at the fortune teller’s wagon and she was ready for another ‘reading’. She was already excited, she had been afraid the troupe might have moved on since her last visit, even though the old man assured her they would not. As she entered the wagon, the blue lights deepened, and the remaining lights dimmed.
Without hesitation Franzee went to the small table and sat in her usual seat. She didn’t have long to wait. Out walked the little man with the bright eyes.
“It’s good to see you. I thought you might have decided not to return,” the man said.
“Oh no, never!” said Franzee. “I’ve been so busy at work…I mean…well, this is the first day I’ve had off in weeks.”
“Today is a very important day for you. Are you ready?” asked the man.
“What do you mean?” asked Franzee.
“You really don’t remember?” the man asked.
Suddenly Franzee was nervous. Without warning, she was hit with the realization she was missing time. She knew she wanted to come back here, but she couldn’t remember any of the previous visits. In fact, she wasn’t at all certain there had been any prior visits. How was that possible?
“I don’t feel so good…perhaps I should leave,” Franzee began.
“It can be quite disorienting, but don’t be afraid. All will be revealed,” the man responded.
As Franzee watched, he reached into his vest pocket and took out a long sliver chain. On the end of the chain was a beautifully cut, light blue sapphire. As the little man held it out in front of him, the sapphire began to sparkle. It was picking up every ray of the deep blue lights streaming through the little wagon and using them to put on quite the light display. As Franzee stared at the jewel, the little man began to talk, slowly and methodically.
“It’s time for you to remember. It’s time to remember all that you’ve forgotten,” he said softly.
Franzee was beginning to remember…the sapphire, that blue sparkling light, she remembered seeing that blue light dancing off the jewel. They were talking. She was asking for a favor. Now she remembered! Oh no, how could she have ever trusted him, it would be the end of them all. She started to panic as she remembered what she had done.
“Relax Franzee, relax. Everything is exactly as you wanted. I have what you asked for,” the little man explained.
“Wait, you have it? But, how? How is it possible? Are you sure?” she asked excitedly.
“It has been tested on animals, but not humans. It’s the best I could do on such short notice,” the little man said.
As he talked, he held out a small vial filled with a bright red liquid. Could this really be it? Franzee was barely breathing as she contemplated the possibilities.
It all came back to her now. She had confided in the little man on her second visit about the disease that kept her and her sisters prisoners to Grace’s lab. Instead of looking at her like she was crazy, the little man had offered to help. He took several samples of her blood and promised to find a duplicate of the injections Grace was giving them.
As a precaution, she had the man hypnotize her so she wouldn’t be able to remember any of it if she was interrogated by Grace or the security staff. It also kept her from being nervous around Grace as well. She didn’t have to worry about keeping the secret from her sisters either, as she didn’t remember it herself.
“So, this is really it? We can actually be free?” Franzee asked in a whisper.
“Yes, but I have to tell you it’s not the same as the injections you’re currently getting,” he answered.
“What do you mean?” Franzee asked, suddenly worried. She knew it was too good to be true.
“My sources tell me that the only reason you have the aging disease is because you’ve been given a booster of the virus at regular intervals. You were lied to when you were told it was genetic. This one will not only prevent you from aging, it will cure you permanently. Once you take it though, make sure you don’t receive another injection from Miss Grace,” he replied.
A cure! Not just a temporary fix, but an actual cure! But…wait, just who was this gypsy?
“Who are you?” Franzee demanded.
“Who I am is of no importance. What I can do for you is all that matters,” he answered.
“How did you know about Grace? I’ve never said that name to you, never! Is this some kind of trick? Are you just trying to learn about the lab? Are you seeking the fountain of youth for yourself old man?” Franzee asked as she stood up quickly.
The little old man just shook his head. With a deep sigh, he reached up and pulled his wig off. He followed that with his bushy eyebrows and reaching inside his vest he undid a harness beneath it that kept him stooped over. As he stood, he was no longer as old or as little as he had been just a moment before. Even though he had only done a few modifications, the man barely resembled the fortune teller she had come to know.
Only the eyes were still the same. Those bright eyes. She should have guessed after looking at those eyes that he wasn’t that old, but whoever this was, he was indeed a master of disguises. He played his part perfectly, but for what purpose?
“Why?” Franzee whispered, tears in her eyes.
“It’s simple, without the ruse you’d never have had the courage to save yourself or your sisters. I’ve done nothing to hurt you and no one knows what I know about you, your sisters, the lab or the new Miss Grace Stevens,” the man declared.
Franzee had to think. It was true, he had done nothing to hurt her. In fact, he had done nothing except what she had asked him to do. If he was telling her the truth, he was still holding the cure her and her sisters so desperately needed. But why?
He saw the wheels turning in her mind and he understood what she was thinking.
“Your previous Miss Grace hurt someone very close to me. Unfortunately, she almost destroyed him when she killed his wife. I’ve made it my mission to make sure she never does that to anyone else again. Even if you walk out of here and never come back, even if you refuse to answer my questions, I want you to have this,” he said as he handed her the little vial with the dark red solution in it.
He was giving her the cure. No matter what, he was handing her the cure. Franzee hated Grace and now that she had the cure, she had no reason to care what happened to the evil woman.
“What is it you want to know?” she asked.
“Tell me everything you can about her current stage of development. What are her strengths and what are her weaknesses. When will she be leaving the lab and beginning her new attempt at world conquest?” he queried.
“She’s in her early twenties, but she’s more powerful than ever before. We’ve been splicing a new DNA and RNA sequence into her original matrix. She now has the ability to shift to elemental forms and animal forms as well as her White Alpha form. She’s fully twice as strong as she was in her previous incarnation and quite impossible to stop now,” Franzee explained.
“Anything that lives, can be stopped. The previous Miss Grace thought she was invincible, but a single warlock brought her down,” the man answered.
“You don’t understand. Imagine, before she can be shot or stabbed, she simply switches to her water form and the bullet or the blade passes right through her. In that form she doesn’t even need to breath oxygen, she is oxygen. Her intellect is just slightly higher than before, but that may have come at a cost. The only thing we’ve noticed is a paranoia that wasn’t there in the previous version.
If she has any true weaknesses, I don’t know what they can be. The only question we have is about her sanity. We’ve noticed several times that she seems to be a little off,” Franzee explained.
“What do you mean by ‘off’?” asked the man.
“Well, she’s very, very paranoid and that’s not like the previous Grace. She has always been exceedingly confident and right down cocky, but this Grace seems to be worried about every little possible danger,” Franzee answered.
Hmmm, what else can you tell me that might be important?” he asked.
“You wanted to know when she’ll be departing, my best guess is within days. She’s been growing three new ‘super’ shifters and they’ll be completed in the next three days. It will only take an additional day or two to download everything into their consciousness and to get their strength and coordination synched,” Franzee explained.
“Good that means you and your sisters can try to escape then,” the man exclaimed.
“Probably not. The new ‘paranoid’ Grace has converted the lab to a fully automatic one. As soon as she knows it works, she won’t need me or my sisters anymore. We already know she has plans to have the security forces kill us after she departs,” Franzee said.
“I can help you smuggle in some weapons that will give you a chance against them,” he said.
“I’m afraid they wouldn’t do much good. Most of the guards are shifters. I assume if you know about Grace, then you know about the shifters, werewolves as some call them. She’ll send them down after dark and they’ll slaughter us just for the fun of it,” Franzee said with tears in her eyes.
“Now, now dear. I think I can help with that too. I have some friends that aren’t frightened by shifters. These friends don’t like shifters very much and I think they might be anxious to help you, as long as you don’t mind us destroying the lab after you’re rescued?” the man asked with a genuine smile on his face.
Franzee wasn’t sure what was happening. Why was this man helping her? There had to be more to it than just looking out for an old friend. Could she and her sisters finally have a chance at a normal life? Her sisters! What would they say? Would they go along with her plan?
She would have to think about that aspect of it very carefully. They were both frightened enough of the current Grace, they might tell her everything. No, she’d have to wait until the last possible moment to let them in on it. It was for their own good.
As she stood there looking across at the ‘not so old man’ in front of her, she was drawn to him. He wasn’t that much older than she was, and he was quite handsome. Without warning, she reached over and placed her hand behind his head and pulled his lips to hers. She had never kissed anyone before this, but she would never forget this one. Wow!
“I’m sorry…” she said as she stepped back, “I’ve never done that before. I mean you probably have a wife and…”
“Shhh,” the man started, “I enjoyed it, and no, there’s no wife. For a first timer, you are quite good at that.”
Franzee was blushing harder than she ever had.
“Can I at least know whom it is I have the pleasure of kissing?” she asked.
“Of course, madam. My name is Pierre and I am at your service,” the man replied.
“How will you know if she’s gone or if we are ready when your friends arrive?” Franzee asked.
“Don’t worry about that, I’ll know. Remember, I am fortune teller after all,” Pierre said.
As Franzee was leaving, Pierre was already sending a coded computer message to his contact in Canada. With any luck, his ‘friends’ would be there within days to help rescue the three scientists.