It was okay to be a little obsessive, Lucy Rossano told herself, trying to breathe. Perfectly normal. She clutched the shoulder bag that contained the book to her chest. It was the most valuable book she’d ever acquired in the eight years she’d been dealing in rare books. So of course she couldn’t bring herself to sell it, no matter the price, or donate it to a museum, or even lock it in the safe at the store. It was by frickin’ Leonardo da Vinci. Who wouldn’t want to carry it around all the time?
And sleep with it.
“I can’t believe you have a book that shows a picture of the very machine I’m working on.” Brad could hardly contain his excitement. He pushed past the guard’s desk at the Super Collider Lab. “Hey, Wally. Just in for a quick check on the power levels.”
The guard’s eyes widened. “Uh, okay, Dr. Steadman.” His stare shifted to Lucy. She could feel him registering the really red hair. It was the only reason anyone ever noticed her.
“Oh. Uh, Lucy’s my . . . my new research assistant. Lucy, why don’t you sign in?”
Lucy moved to the loose-leaf binder as if in a dream. This couldn’t be happening. Brad was wrong. Maybe the whole thing was wishful thinking on his part. Right. Wishful thinking—Brad? Practical, subatomic-particle-expert Brad? He’d been her father’s research assistant at Stanford. Wishful thinking wasn’t in Brad’s gene pool. She signed her name. The guard passed her a visitors’ tag. She clipped it to her black knit jacket. Her hand shook.
“You sure work all hours, Dr. Steadman,” Wally said, waving them through.
Brad grabbed her hand and practically dragged her through two double doors. When the doors were safely shut, he said, “And you showed it to me only hours after I’d had a breakthrough in powering the thing. What a coincidence!”
Yeah. Just a coincidence. But she’d had the book for months now and hadn’t told a soul. So why had she felt so . . . so compelled to show her friend Brad the book today of all days? The urge had haunted her at the Exploratorium. It should have been just like any other visit. She and Brad had gone to the Exploratorium every few months since her father died. Brad was trying to interest her in the hands-on exhibits meant for children. He thought she’d be happier if she went back to school and got a degree in some kind of science, preferably particle science so they could work together. Like that was going to happen. Her doctorate meant nothing to him, both because it was in comparative literature and the because it was from Berkeley, not Stanford.
Still, she liked the Exploratorium, as much for the picnics they always had at the Palace of Fine Arts next door as anything else. The classic semi-ruin built for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition held a strange attraction for her. Today the place was all torn up because the city of San Francisco was retrofitting it to withstand earthquakes. But the mysterious basement they’d uncovered below the Rotunda floor only seemed to make the attraction stronger. Why had it been built? Why was it empty? In the middle of her speculation, the urge to show Brad the book began to feel like she’d ordered Thai food extrahot—a burning sensation she couldn’t control. Finally, as the November fog rolled in through the Golden Gate and down the colonnade, she’d pulled out the book and let Brad page through it in the overhead light of the car.
Now, here they were, hurrying down the long corridor of the Super Collider Lab to see . . . what? An impossibility.
“I knew this was important, no matter what Casey said.” Brad had been under a lot of pressure since some guy from the government had come in to supervise his project. “He doesn’t give me the respect I deserve.” Brad glanced back to her. “Just like someone else I could name.”
Lucy mustered up a smile. Brad was a strange mixture of rampant ego and insecurity. It was kind of nice to have a friend who needed you as much as you needed him. And she had been needy after her father died. “You know I think you’re brilliant.”
Brad’s eyes darkened. He set his lips. “Yeah. You think I’m smart. That’s why you bother to hang around with me.”
That was only part of it. They did have good conversations. But she also hung with Brad because he’d known her father. Now that she was alone in the world, Brad was a kind of connection to her father. And Brad had been a friend indeed, helping her with the funeral, arranging to sell her father’s boat so she could keep the store going. “You know it’s more than that.”
A little glimmer of something flashed in his brown eyes. “I know.”
That was puzzling. But this whole thing was puzzling. When Brad saw the picture of the machine in Leonardo’s wonderful book, he freaked out. He said the machine actually existed. The Italian government found it under Il Duomo cathedral in Florence and asked Stanford’s Super Collider Lab to find a way to power it. No one knew what the machine actually did.
Except Lucy. Leonardo’s book told her.
It was supposed to be a time machine.
Therefore, it wasn’t real. She couldn’t be hurrying down some corridor of a lab in the hills of twenty-first-century San Mateo County to see a time machine built in 1508. Impossible.
But that’s not what her bones were telling her. She’d always known that Leonardo’s treatise, which had such a hold on her, was no ordinary book.
It had all started with a girl named Frankie Suchet.
“I’ve got a book I want authenticated,” the beautiful young woman said. Her blond hair was spiked out and tipped with coal black. Her blue eyes glowed in translucent white skin. She was lean and boyish, dressed in tight leather pants and a skimpy sweater that showed her flat belly. Just the kind of body Lucy always wanted to have. “Professor Lambeth over at Berkeley said you could do the job.” The woman began unwrapping a brown paper package tied with string.
“Don’t you want to know how much I charge?” Lucy asked, taken aback by the girl’s abrupt demeanor.
“Charge what you want. I need to know if it’s real.” Her voice was hard.
Lucy sighed. It would be some diary found in an attic trunk, worth no more than its sentimental value. That’s what usually walked in her door. The bookstore was just creaking by, yielding only enough income to hold body and soul together. She’d charge the woman a hundred bucks just to make the service seem worthwhile and tell her the bad news.
The large book revealed on Lucy’s counter had a beautiful tooled leather binding. Who would do something so expensive for a diary? The style was almost High Renaissance, with scenes of angels swirling up toward a radiant cloud. Lucy ran her hand over it. Not stamped. You could clearly see the mark of the awl in several places.
There was no title page, only a dedication . . . in archaic Italian:
For Contessa Donnatella Margherita Luchella di Poliziano, from her friend Leonardo da Vinci. I dedicate to you my greatest work.
A chill ran down Lucy’s spine. It couldn’t be. Get hold of yourself. A fraud. The writing was certain proof. She turned a page. Her eyes scanned the note.
What you see before you is a time machine.
Right. Somebody was trying to put one over on the academic community. They’d probably go for it, hook, line, and sinker, too. Who didn’t want to believe that Leonardo da Vinci had built a time machine? She scanned again. Something about only the Contessa having enough power to make the machine run. . . .
You are asking yourself how it works. If you care to read the journal, you will know. But if you are in haste, know this, time is not a river but a vortex, and with enough power a man can jump into another part of the swirl.
So, my dear Contessa, pull the lever. Think of the moment you want to be in as you leap into the maelstrom. You will end in the moment you imagine.
Be warned: The machine will go with you, but it cannot stay long in another time. To return, you must use it again before it disappears. I do not know how long it can stay. I do not know what will happen if you make it back to the time you are in now, or what will happen if you don’t. I give you only the means to change your destiny, or perhaps all of our destinies. Use it if you will.
But the book wasn’t Leonardo’s. She’d known it from the first words of the dedication. She turned the page.
The writing of the central text was done from right to left. Each letter was written backward. It would read correctly in a mirror. Exactly how Leonardo wrote his notebooks—why, no one knew for certain. Diagrams, calculations in the margins, long batches of text that would take many hours to translate . . . it all looked amazingly authentic. And on the final pages, there was an intricate picture of a machine with incredibly complex interlocking gears.
“What do you think?”
Lucy looked up at the girl. The look in those blue eyes was cynical, but only on the surface; underneath there was a terrible, wrenching . . . hope.
Lucy managed a shrug. “Well, if it’s fake, it’s one hell of a fake. The paper is made from macerated rags rolled out in a press. The writing is in the manner of Leonardo. There’s a chance it’s real. I’ll know in a couple of days.”
Frankie Suchet had left her name and address. The book had been real, of course. But that wasn’t the strangest part of it in some ways. When Lucy had told her, three days later, the girl had taken a gigantic breath and said, “Well, that’s it then.” And she had turned around and made for the door.
“Don’t you want to take the book with you?” Lucy had called after her.
The woman had turned in the doorway. “You keep it. I have what I need from it.”
And she’d walked out.
That was the last Lucy had seen of her for five months. And then one day, she walked in through the shop door, accompanied by the most drop-dead gorgeous man Lucy had ever seen. At least Lucy thought it was Frankie Suchet. She had to look twice. Gone was the spiky hair, the air of cynicism. . . .
“It’s you! I’ve been looking for you.” Lucy’s eyes slid to the guy. She tore her eyes away and back to Frankie. “You look . . . different.”
The girl ran her hands through her hair self-consciously. “Where are my manners? Lucy Rossano, this is Henri Foucault.” She pronounced it in the French manner. “Ahn-ree Foo-coh.”
Lucy nodded to the guy and felt herself blushing like every other woman probably did when confronted with that man. “A pleasure, Monsieur Foucault. Am I to credit you for the change I see in Ms. Suchet?” Lucy glanced to Frankie. The soft expression was the real change.
“I like to think so,” the hunk murmured.
Frankie’s blush joined Lucy’s. “Never mind that. I’ve come about the book.”
“That’s why I’ve been trying to find you. No one had heard of you at the address you gave.”
“I’ve been . . . away. Do . . . you . . . have . . . the . . . book?” Frankie spoke each syllable slowly.
Lucy realized she was staring at the couple. She ran her hands through the thick mass of her hair. “Yes. Yes, of course. But someone has made an offer on it. A . . . a million dollars.”
The couple glanced at each other. “We’ll match whatever you’re offered,” Foucault said.
Lucy’s mouth worked, but she couldn’t manage any sound. She couldn’t sell it to the woman who had given it to her. She wanted to say she’d just give it back. But that would mean giving it up.
Frankie leaned over the counter, blue eyes burning. “There’s more to it, isn’t there?”
Lucy felt trapped. But this woman would know about the book if anyone did. And Lucy needed to know. “I’ve started to dream about the book. I think about it every waking moment. Is . . . is it cursed or something? I mean, the way you just left it here when it was so valuable—were you passing it on to get rid of it?”
Frankie smiled. Suddenly she seemed sure of herself. “No, I had already decided to use the knowledge it contained to make me happy. I had all it could give me.”
“You do look happy,” Lucy whispered.
Henri looked to Frankie, then spoke to Lucy. “If you’re short of money, we know some influential people in the arts in San Francisco. We’ll spread the word about your shop.”
“Keep the book.” Frankie looked into Lucy’s eyes. “You’re meant to have it just as I was.”
And they left her a treasure. Sometimes she wished they hadn’t. The book had hold of her, no matter how much she pretended she wasn’t obsessed. She’d begun to make up fantastic stories about Frankie Suchet using the machine to make herself happy and what that might mean. She’d daydreamed about using the machine herself as if it really existed. Because ever since her father died, Lucy had been drifting, waiting for . . . something. She wanted what Frankie Suchet had. Certainty? Happiness? Lucy wanted that. She wanted her life transformed into something meaningful, even though she didn’t know what that meaning would be.
And now the whole sequence of events seemed like destiny. The feeling was overpowering. The book had been left to her. Frankie believed it was meant for her somehow. The Italian government sent the machine to America to give it power. Her friend Brad was assigned to the project. Too many coincidences. The book and the machine were coming together with power only the Super Collider Lab could provide.
And they would be used.
Maybe it wouldn’t work. This could all still be some elaborate hoax.
But Lucy no longer believed that. This was destiny. Her destiny.
A guy with a ramrod-straight military bearing and a brush cut stepped out of an office directly into Lucy and Brad’s path. She could practically feel Brad cringe. The guy had an intense look about him.
“Colonel Casey, just the man I wanted to see.” Brad wasn’t an imposing man, maybe five nine or ten, lean from being a runner. He dressed precisely in pressed chinos and Bruno Magli loafers, maybe too precisely. He wasn’t God’s gift to women. But he and Lucy had their common looks in common. She wasn’t God’s gift to men. Maybe that drew them together—a lifetime of being everyone’s second choice. There was no way Brad was fit to stand up to Casey.
“I heard you made a breakthrough, Steadman. About time. Though what this retro bunch of gears is supposed to do is beyond me.” His eyes never left Lucy’s face. They were the palest blue she’d ever seen. Even though his hair was blond, they seemed unnatural. “Trying to impress your girl with a government project that requires special clearance?” The sneer in his voice was evident. “Not smart, Steadman.”
“As a matter of fact,” here Brad cleared his throat, “Miss Rossano is my research assistant. I’ve located a book about the origin of the machine and its purpose.”