Several years before in a small town in Northern Europe
Prologue – Beware the dream chaser for he will sacrifice all, including you …The Enigma Chronicles
The waiter had seated her a few minutes before at a secluded table. It was a balmy day, and the abundance of flowers emitted a rich yet subtle scent of almost vanilla and cherry blossoms. She had tied her heavy dark hair into a simple chignon that accentuated her long neck which supported only a simple golden chain with a single teardrop pendant. Her creamy skin was accentuated by the red dress that displayed her lithe figure. Though not classically beautiful, she carried herself with confidence and frankly cared not for social ranking.
This meeting was likely doomed to end up like their prior discussions. The opportunity it presented her was worth one more attempt for the establishment of mutually achievable goals. He was brilliant but frustrated with the lack of total success. Like most geniuses, he was incapable of seeing past his current plan with its flaws or even able to see the possibilities when approached from a different perspective. As he walked toward the secluded table at the very end of the garden, he strode with confidence and was tall enough to command respect. The clothes were tailored, the fabric expensive though with subdued colors, and his brownish hair was neatly trimmed. As he paused to speak with the waiter, she saw his dark eyes and unwavering facial expression issue orders that would undoubtedly be followed.
He bowed toward her slightly before he took her hand and passed his warm breath across her skin. She smiled as he placed a single lavender orchid with white streaks in each of the petals in front of her as a token of friendly negotiations. His hands were well manicured and void of any signs of physical labor. She looked up with her dark eyes and almost smiled in an inscrutable manner as she nodded her head in acknowledgement. He sat nearly across from her but angled to allow his legs additional stretching space.
Neither of them spoke as the waiter brought out a large tray laden with some wine and several food items that were placed on the table as if for sampling. The waiter placed a napkin in each of their laps as he also added a clean plate at each place. After he sampled the wine and nodded, the waiter finished pouring the wine. He turned and walked away without saying a word.
The gentleman’s dark eyes took in every inch of her as he raised his glass and commented, “To our reaching agreement, madam.”
Her eyes danced a bit as she chuckled and agreed, “Yes, that would be worth a toast, sir.”
They each silently sipped their wine and sampled a bit of the fare. Though this was hardly their first meeting, they seemed to be sizing each other up as they each built the strategy for the discussion. After several minutes of observing the sensibilities of not rushing into a business discussion until the social pleasantries were completed, she picked up her napkin and delicately dabbed at her lips, knowing nothing was there to remove.
Looking down to the flower, she focused on it to collect her thoughts and then took one more sip of the exquisite wine, as she began. “I know that we do not always see eye-to-eye on this project of yours, sir. I also know that you asked for my help and viewpoint as you have respect for my experience and skills. I think that your goal is very short-sighted indeed, yet it can be achieved. It needs some time, some logic and some testing in a methodical, pre-defined sequence.”
The gentleman’s eyes flashed with anger as he interrupted, “Madam, this is not the way you suggested our conversation would go when we scheduled this meeting. You know that time is the enemy of us all. Time is the entire reason that I engaged with you at all. To shorten the time between the two points. That is why I agreed to this meeting. That is what you promised, madam.”
She held up her hand, displayed her long slender fingers and trimmed but colorless nails, and quietly insisted, “When we started on your project, I had suggested that it would be at least a dozen years before we could explore clinical trials. I had been diligently working toward that goal when you made the decision to take a different path. Your path made no sense four months ago, and those poor results are my proof points.
“Your experimental procedure has always lacked the discipline necessary for the steps that need to be followed. There are few shortcuts in something that involves over three billion variables. I have worked on some bioinformatics programs that will help shorten the timeframe to arrive at a solution. To achieve your long term goal is going to require the multi-threaded approach, period.” Her face remained serene and emotionless, outside of a hint of a smile at his reaction.
His eyes flared then turned stormy as his face reddened with anger. He swallowed for control and then asked, “How long do you think it will take? How much more funding is required, though that is really not the issue, now is it?”
As she leaned back slightly in her seat and sighted the orchid again, she sipped her wine and replied, “I think five million should be enough to take me to the solution. I suspect it will take just over five years for completion. Value at even twice the price.
“Before you get upset, that is half the time I originally projected. And, before you started your rogue processes, you had speculated for a quarter of a century. I’m not proposing shortcuts, but instead a smarter approach. Though to a degree, it would be brute force testing.”
He looked at her in anger and yet respected her abilities more than he was willing to admit aloud. She was one of the best minds he had ever come across. She had no interest in him, per se, even though he had offered all his fortune and marriage. That was a discussion she had stopped on all fronts. It was clear that another male had claimed her heart and then left her in his death. The gentleman gathered his wits, mentally reviewed the alternatives and recognized that his options were limited.
He looked at her intensely and stated, “You will get your money. You can return to my labs with me and get started immediately. Anything and everything you need will be provided.”
Her temper almost showed, but she checked it as she retorted, “I will work in my own space, sir. I will not have you standing over me and pressuring me, as you are even attempting now. We tried that before, and your efforts failed. You went off in a snit and look what you accomplished
“If you place those sorts of constraints on me, I will do nothing, and you will die a painful death.” Her voice softened as she added, “If you let me work, I believe I can find a salvation for you as well as a long range solution. Your experimentation has resulted in two goals - with one being more critical now than the original.”
He looked almost beaten. She reached down to pick up the beautiful orchid, and as he resignedly nodded, he reached to take her hand. She extended her hand with the flower into his open palm, almost relieved that they’d actually reached agreement. He covered her hand with his other hand. Before she could react, she felt the hypodermic needle slide into her skin. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at him with pure hate as she yanked her hand away and dropped the flower. She inspected the puncture and blood that now glistened on her ivory skin. She stared at the orchid now, realizing it was an assassin’s weapon.
“You stupid, deranged man! What have you done?”
He gently picked up the flower and, as he studied it, said, “The orchid, how beautiful in life and how empty in death.” His face turned to stone as he continued, “Even though you have refused my offer of marriage and security, I feel as though our lives are already intertwined. We are on our way, you and me, towards a rich destiny that will be best shared together. I have given you my half of the solution, per our agreement, because I want you with me to the end of our days.
“I have infected you with the same treatment I took for myself. Now you have a personal, vested interest in succeeding in applying the mapping correctly. You can return to your home, your work, but I will be watching, and this is now in your best interest to resolve or you too will perish. And as you stated so plainly, it promises to be very painful, my partner in life or in death.”
The lady lay her napkin aside, collected her small clutch, and rose. Her eyes focused on him while her face was like a mask which displayed no emotion. Before she turned, she quietly demanded, “The waiter will hand you an envelope as you leave. Your payments are expected to be wired into the numbered account therein in monthly increments for the sum mentioned. I will provide periodic updates on the progress and contact you only if I have need of something. I will continue access to your system which I presume will be available via the same connection.”
Even though her stature was small, she looked as regal as any royal, on any continent. He was almost saddened by the events that had just unfolded, until she stopped and turned.
Her eyes blazed as she added, “Do not ever contact me directly again, even when this is solved, which I promise it will be.”