Painter waited for the guard, Klaus, to return to his post by the door.
"There's no cure?"
Anna nodded. "I spoke truly."
"Then why isn't Painter showing the same madness as the monks?" Lisa asked.
Anna glanced to Painter. "You were away from the monastery, Ja? At the outlying village. Your exposure was less. Rather than the rapid neurological degeneration, you're experiencing a slower, more generalized bodily deterioration. Still, it is a death sentence."
Anna must have read something in his face.
"While there is no cure, there is a hope of slowing the deterioration. Over the years, experimenting with animals, we have devised some models that show promise. We can prolong your life. Or at least we could have."
"What do you mean?" Lisa asked.
Anna stood. "It is why I called you down here. To show you." She nodded to the guard, Klaus, who opened the door. "Follow me. And perhaps we'll find a way to help each other."
Painter offered Lisa a hand as Anna stepped away. He burned with curiosity. He sensed both a trap and a measure of hope.
What better bait?
Lisa leaned toward him as she stood. "What is going on?" she whispered in his ear.
"I'm not sure." He glanced to Anna as she spoke with Klaus.
Perhaps we'll find a way to help each other.
Painter had planned to propose the same to Anna, even discussed it with Lisa earlier, to bargain for their lives, to buy time. Had they been eavesdropped upon? Bugged? Or had matters simply grown so much worse here that their cooperation was truly needed?
Now he was worried.
"It must have something to do with that explosion we heard," Lisa said.
Painter nodded. He definitely needed more information. For now, he tabled any concern about his own health…though it was difficult, as another migraine built behind his eyes, aching in his back molars, reminding him of his illness with every throb.
Anna motioned them over. Klaus stepped back. He did not look happy. Then again, Painter had yet to see the man happy. And for some reason, he hoped never to. What made this man happy had to involve screaming and bloodshed.
"If you'll come with me," Anna said with cold politeness.
She headed out the door, flanked by two of the outer guardsmen. Klaus followed Lisa and Painter, trailed by another two armed men.
They headed in a direction different from their plush prison cell. After a few turns a straight tunnel, wider than any of the others, stretched into the heart of the mountain. It was also lit by a row of electric bulbs, lined up in wire cages along one wall. It was the first sign of any modern amenities.
They walked along the corridor.
Painter noted the smoky reek to the air. It grew stronger as they progressed. He returned his attention to Anna.
"So you know what made me sick," he said.
"It was the accident, as I said before."
"An accident involving what?" he pressed.
"The answer is not easy. It stretches far back into history."
"Back to when you were Nazis?"
Anna glanced to him. "Back to the origin of life on this planet."
"Really?" Painter said. "So how long is this story? Remember, I only have three days left."
She smiled at him again and shook her head. "In that case, I'll jump forward to when my grandfather first came to the GranitschloR. At the end of the war. Are you familiar with the turmoil at that time? The chaos in Europe as Germany crumbled."
"Everything up for grabs."
"And not just German land and resources, but also our research. Allied forces sent competing parties, scientists and soldiers, scouring the German countryside, pillaging for secret technology. It was a free-for-all." Anna frowned at them. "Is that the right word?"
Painter and Lisa both nodded.
"Britain alone sent in five thousand soldiers and civilians, under the code name T-Force. Technology Force. Their stated goal was to locate and preserve German technology from looting and robbery, when in fact looting and robbery was their true goal, competing against American, French, and Russian counterparts. Do you know who was the founder of the British T-Force?"
Painter shook his head. He could not help comparing his own Sigma Force to the earlier British World War II teams. Tech-plunderers. He would love to discuss the same with Sigma's founder, Sean McKnight. If he lived that long.
"Who was their leader?" Lisa asked.
"A gentleman named Commander Ian Fleming."
Lisa made a dismissive snort. "The writer who created James Bond?"
"The same. It was said he patterned his character on some of the men on his team. That gives you some idea of the roughshod and cavalier exuberance of these plunderers."
"To the victor go the spoils of war," Painter quoted with a shrug.
"Perhaps. But it was my grandfather's duty to protect as much of that technology as possible. He was an officer in the Sicherheitsdienst." She glanced at Painter, testing him.
So the game was not over. He was up for the challenge. "The Sicherheitsdienst was the group of SS commandos involved in evacuation of German treasures: art, gold, antiquities, and technology."
She nodded at him. "In the final days of the war, as Russia pushed across the eastern lines, my grandfather was given what you Americans call a deep black mission. He received his orders from Heinrich Himmler himself, before the Reichsfuhrer was captured and committed suicide."
"And his orders?" Painter asked.
"To remove, safeguard, and destroy all evidence of a project code-named Chronos. At the heart of the project was a device simply called die Glocke. Or the Bell. The research lab was buried deep underground, in an abandoned mine in the Sudeten Mountains. He had no idea what was the purpose of the project, but he would eventually. He almost destroyed it then, but he had his orders."
"So he escaped with the Bell. How?"
"Two plans were laid in place. One flight to the north through Norway, another to the south through the Adriatic. There were agents waiting to assist him on both routes. My grandfather opted to go north. Himmler had told him about GranitschloR. He fled here with a group of Nazi scientists, some with histories in the camps. All needed a place to hide. Plus my grandfather dangled a project that few scientists could resist."
"The Bell," Painter concluded.
"Exactly. It offered something many scientists at the time had been seeking through other means."
"And what was that?"
Anna sighed and glanced back to Klaus. "Perfection." She remained silent for a few moments, lost in some private sadness.