A Twist in Time
Spoiler Alert in the following selection
if you have not read TIME FOR ETERNITY!
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 DaVinci. 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 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, sub-atomic-particle-expert Brad? He'd been her father's research assistant at Stanford. Wishful thinking wasn't in his 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 went to the Exploratorium every few months since her father died. He 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 fact that 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 1918 Pan-American Fair 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 extra hot-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 him. 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 so was this whole thing 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.
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 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 just 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 her 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 DaVinci. I dedicate to you my greatest work."
A chill ran down her 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 DaVinci 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 backwards. 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 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 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? She 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."
Lucy tried to relax. This guy would never let the machine be used, destiny or not, by some girl he didn't know. She was off the hook. She had no desire to succumb to some fate over which she had no control, regardless of the feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Okay. Give me the book. I'll take a look. You wait in the lobby, Miss Rossano."
Like hell. She wasn't giving up her book. She leaned forward and stuck out her hand. "That's Dr. Rossano. Nice to meet someone else who reads sixteenth century Italian."
Casey stared at her. Boy, if reptiles had blue eyes… He didn't take her offered hand. He shot a disgusted glance to Brad. Then he gestured down the hall.
She saw Brad swallow as he led the way. Casey fell in behind them.
Brad opened a door at the end of a long hall. Lucy had memorized each detail of the diagram in Leonardo's book. But that didn't prepare her for the sheer size and weight of the machine standing on a platform across the lab. It gleamed faintly in the tiny work lights that still left shadows in the cavernous lab. The whole experience was like the first time she'd seen Rodin's The Thinker in the sculpture garden at the Norton Simon Museum. Everybody knew what it looked like from pictures in countless art books. But that never prepared you. It was that dense occupation of space that gave it emotional resonance.
The giant, brass gears towering above her, immensely heavy, made her catch her breath and struggle for air. The gems that studded the wheels coruscated with emerald green, ruby red and the blue of sapphires as big as your fist. Where had Leonardo gotten such jewels? A fortune winked from among the interlocking wheels, none bigger than the huge diamond that formed the knob of a control stick. Everything looked just as it was in the book, except for the lunchbox-sized metal box bolted to the frame just under the largest wheel.
Could this medieval machine really send someone to another time? On the face of it, it was ridiculous. Yet if anyone could build a time machine surely it would be Leonardo DaVinci. Half scientist, half artist, in some ways he was more than either-a magician, perhaps. Was it that possibility that had fueled her obsession?
Both the colonel and Brad watched for her reaction. She thought Brad might explode with excitement. "It's Leonardo's machine, all right." She couldn't help that her eyes filled.
"DaVinci?" Casey's voice was sharp.
Lucy nodded. She could hardly see his light eyes in the dim room.
Brad tried to calm himself. He cleared his throat. "If the book is right this machine could be more important than you've been thinking, Colonel." Was Brad excited only to prove himself to Casey? Maybe.
Casey's hard eyes reassessed her. "And you, Dr. Rossano, know what it is."
She nodded slowly. Well, at least he'd never believe her. "Yeah. It's a time machine."
"A time machine," Casey snorted. "Right. Are you crazy, Steadman?"
"No, you've got to see the book, Colonel," Brad protested. He hurried to a long table that faced the machine and switched on a small work light. "Luce, bring the book and show him."
Lucy hefted her bag off her shoulder. The book wouldn't help a military guy believe. Huge girders loomed in the ceiling far above her. The place had that peculiar sterile environment that left only a faint metallic odor. She pulled out the book and spread it open. Casey leaned over it. Lucy pointed. "Leonardo's signature." She flipped pages to show the diagrams on assembly, key notes in the margins, mathematical equations. Then she flipped to the full drawing. Casey drew in a breath. She paged back. "Here's where he says that time is a vortex. And here…he says the jewels focus the power."
"How do I know that's what it says?" Casey asked softly, his eyes darting over the text.
"You can check it with another expert in archaic Italian." There. That would buy time. She could feel the machine looming above her, heavy with… with purpose. That was bad.
"How do you select a time? There are no dials or settings we could see."
Lucy smiled. This would seal their disbelief. "It says in the book that you pull the handle, and just think about the time you want to be in."
Casey blinked once and chuffed a disgusted laugh. "Oh, great. I get the really good assignments."
"Okay. I know it sounds a little out there," Brad admitted. "That's why we've got to try it. If we've spent a lot of someone's money powering a machine that doesn't do anything, better to know that now. If it's a hoax all the Italians have is a fortune in tourist dollars when they put it on display in the Ufizzi. But if it's not then we've got something everybody is going to want."
Lucy was dismayed at Casey's look of speculation. He couldn't be considering powering up the machine, could he?
"And then this wasn't such a crappy assignment after all," Brad continued. "In fact, you can probably name your next one." Brad really struck a chord with that. Casey thought he'd drawn a crappy assignment and he was now thinking how nice it would be to come up with something incredible no one ever expected. "So why don't we test it out? Right here. Tonight."
No, no, no. Definitely not. Lucy looked around wildly. The machine seemed to be vibrating in satisfaction. "Wouldn't… wouldn't that be bad scientific method? You should do a…. a controlled experiment." Brad was always talking about controlled experiments.
"Well, we've got a problem," Brad said, his eyes on Casey. "We can't go to my boss, or your boss, and tell them we've got a time machine. We'd be laughed out of the office."
"Well, yeah," Casey said, dripping sarcasm. "I guess we would."
"Unless we had proof. Come on, Casey." Brad was on a roll. Sure of himself. "You want prestige and power. If it works, you're in like Flynn. A time machine built by Leonardo DaVinci and powered by our project?" It must have killed him to share the credit for the project.
Lucy could see that Casey was becoming convinced. He'd gotten that speculative look, in spades. "Your little lunchbox over there works?"
"Of course it works," Brad said through gritted teeth. "We successfully moved the gears today using a fraction of the power it's capable of."
"Could you go to the future?" Casey stared at the machine, even though he was addressing Lucy. He was caught by the possibilities. He would be the one to use the machine tonight. Maybe that was okay. But it didn't feel right. She shook herself mentally. What was she thinking? She had to get out of here or something… momentous would happen.
But she answered anyway. "I don't know. Leonardo was more interested in understanding the past. I guess if time is really a vortex you could go either way."
Casey continued to stare. "What if you can't power up the machine again once you're there?" Oh, yeah. She'd been through that possibility in her mind a thousand times.
"According to Leonardo, the machine can't stay in another time forever. It's too much pressure on the flow of time. It'll snap back to where it came from with you or without you."
"If he knows what he's talking about. And if he doesn't?"
She took a breath. "You get stuck there, along with your machine." There. That should make them think twice about using it.
Brad looked desperate. He wanted the project to succeed that much. "Look," he said. "There's always risk. Somebody has to be first. Sam Yeager had to go up and fly fast even though nobody knew what would happen when you broke the sound barrier. John Glenn had to go up in Apollo. Sometime, somebody just has to do it."
Casey peered at the illustration in the book then straightened. "I agree." He turned to Lucy. "How about her?"
Both Brad and Lucy were stunned. "She isn't even part of the team," Brad sputtered.
"She's perfect. She's obviously read this book a hundred times. She knows how it's supposed to work." Here Casey looked at Brad. "And we have plausible deniability. We were doing tests and she pulled the handle while our backs were turned." He'd gone through all the permutations in his mind. One. It didn't work. Nothing lost. Two. It did work and she went back and returned. He won big. Three. She went back and only the machine returned. He won. He didn't care about her. Four. She went back and neither she nor the machine returned. That was bad. They'd have to admit that she hoodwinked them. But it was one in four. Odds were with Casey. Really with Casey with how big the odds were that it wouldn't work in the first place.
Lucy felt the lab almost tremble with intent. Brad's face was a comical combination of eagerness and guilt. He wanted so badly to try the machine. Badly enough to risk her life? Apparently. "Brad?"
He took a long breath. Fear flashed across his face before he pulled down a mask over both the fear and the eagerness. "You'll be okay, Lucy."
So that was it. He did want it that bad, but he didn't have the courage to use it himself. Casey looked at her. Brad looked at her.
It all came down to this moment. The months of obsession, the feeling of her life being without purpose, stale and tasteless since her father died, her fascination with how happy Frankie Suchet had been. If she walked out now, what would she be walking out to? She had nothing out there. A successful business, maybe even wildly successful since Frankie and Henri had directed all their friends to frequent her shop, but it didn't mean anything to her. She had no friends except a crazy old loon of a landlord and Brad, and Brad didn't look to be a great friend right now. She had nothing but her obsession with the book. And if she walked out, they'd never let her take the book with her. That left…nothing. Her life beyond the walls of this lab had not a shred of magic in it. But here, in this sterile place, magic hung in the air, delivered across time by a magician named DaVinci.
A thrill of… expectation made it hard for Lucy to breathe. How long since she had had expectations of life? A feeling of rightness washed over her. Everything was about to change, and that was as it should be. Her breathing calmed. "Okay." She turned to the machine. "Rev up your lunchbox, Brad."
Brad looked back at Casey. Casey nodded. Brad took a breath and turned to the machine. "Get me more light," he called over his shoulder.
"Nix. That'd attract attention," Casey snapped. He turned off the light on the table. "Only the work lights."
Brad knelt in front of the machine without further protest.
"Let me watch you," Lucy said, leaning over him. "I'll have to start it up myself to make it back." She watched him flipping lighted switches and murmured the pattern to herself. "Blue, then the two whites from left to right, and then the red."
The machine began to hum. Vibrations just at the edge of her awareness filled the room. She steadied her breathing. She was going to do this. How…miraculous was that? The right feeling pushed her fear behind some kind of curtain in her mind. She knew all the things that could happen. She could get stuck in the past. She'd probably be burned as a witch. A red-haired witch. It was an insane risk. She just didn't care anymore. All this was meant to happen. "Okay, to you two it will probably seem if as only a moment has elapsed before I reappear." She closed the book, tucked it into her bag and slung the bag on her shoulder. "Let's get this show on the road."
"You should leave the book here." Brad was trying to sound like Casey. Not.
"Hey, I'm not going back to who-knows-when without my references."
"Let her take it," Casey said. "Does us no good if the thing doesn't work." He nodded to her. There was respect in his eyes.
"I'll go back far enough that they'll be in awe of me and my machine." She was wearing the outfit she'd worn to the Exploratorium, a flippy knit skirt and matching slinky jacket over a green shell, and ballet slipper flats.
"Better pick summer time." Casey said, echoing her thoughts. "Hate to see you ruin those shoes in snow." Was Casey kidding? How did you know with a guy like that?
"You got it."
"Give her all your change," Casey ordered Brad. "Just in case she's there long enough to need to buy food and lodging. Silver is good." They each piled a handful of coins into her bag.
"I won't be there long. I'm going to figure out where I am, grab something to bring back with me as proof and high-tail it back here." Was that true? She stepped up under the machine in front of the lever topped by that impossibly huge diamond.
Brad knelt by the lunch box again. "After you do the switch sequence push this chrome button here, and that will start the power." It was a rounded pad you pressed with your palm.
She nodded and put both hands over the diamond knob. Brad slapped the button. The power hum passed out of hearing range, but she could feel it in her chest and throat. She pulled the lever down. No gears moved. The feeling of power in the air made it difficult to breathe. At last the big gear in the central portion of the machine creaked.
God, it was going to happen! She had to think of a time period. The small gears began to spin, faster and faster. Shakespearean England? Fin de siecle France? She spoke French pretty well. The gears whirred until they were only a blur. She couldn't decide! A white glow filled the room. She thought Brad was shouting, or maybe it was Casey. She couldn't make out the words.
What she really wanted was to go back to a time when magic was possible. Any time, it didn't matter-a time when people believed in magic and it transformed their lives.
The gears seemed to stop, time hung suspended. Oh, no! Did Brad's lunchbox not provide enough power? Or was Leonardo's design flawed? The glow was cut by a hundred beams of light, colored like the jewels. They crisscrossed the ceiling, illuminating the girders above. What was happening here? She felt that possibility of magic she'd imagined receding. A sense of loss suffused her….
Then everything happened impossibly fast. The sensation of time slowing changed in an instant to a feeling of being flung forward like a slingshot, and everything was a blur and she was screaming, only she couldn't hear herself scream….