Excerpt: Revelation by Layton Green

About the Book:

The mystery, intrigue, and globetrotting suspense continue in this second installment of the Unknown 9: Genesis trilogy.

After escaping from a watery dungeon in Venice, astrophysics PhD candidate Andromeda “Andie” Robertson and investigative reporter Cal Miller are whisked to Bologna by a member of the mysterious Leap Year Society. A deadly confrontation with the Society’s bitter rivals, the Ascendants, sends Andie and Cal on the run once again, desperate to solve the Star Phone puzzle so they can reclaim their lives and rescue their loved ones.

Brilliantly juxtaposing a modern-day thriller with a historical search for a missing physicist, REVELATION probes ever deeper into the mounting mysteries surrounding Andie and her past.

What is the source of her strange hallucinations?

What are the true origins of the Leap Year Society and the Ascendants?

How are her mother and her mentor, Dr. James Corwin, involved?

From Italy to India and New York to Buenos Aires, Andie and Cal risk their lives to probe a secret world hidden in plain sight, drawing closer to answers that will determine not only their own fates, but who controls a new frontier of knowledge.

From the author of the bestselling Dominic Grey novels, Genesis is a mind-bending thriller about how far two people will go for answers, and to save the ones they love.

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/books/unknown-9-revelation-the-genesis-trilogy-2-by-layton-green

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56154938-unknown-9

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

New York City

Summer 1970

Broken glass and discarded wrappers littered the sidewalk as the veil of night settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Now the streets belonged to the pushers and addicts, muggers and gang members. For a man such as Dr. James Corwin, professor of theoretical physics at Columbia University, a lone figure in a fedora and tailored linen suit, an outfit that screamed for attention in the rough neighborhood, trouble seemed inevitable. 

Yet his environs did not bother him. Dr. Corwin had come of age in a slum in Kingston, Jamaica. He had survived much harder streets, had traveled the world and back again. 

What bothered him was the puzzle of the abandoned building across the street.

Only thirty-one years old, Dr. Corwin had received tenure at Columbia a year earlier, a most impressive feat. He was also a member of another organization, the Leap Year Society, which he considered even more prestigious—but which he still knew precious little about, despite his recent induction. 

Earlier that morning, Dr. Corwin had arrived at his office to find a manila envelope delivered beneath his door. Inside was a calling card bearing the ouroboros seal of the LYS. Printed on the back of the card was a clock set to midnight above the address that had led him to this abandoned building on Canal Street. 

The message was clear.

He checked his watch. 11:30 p.m. A graffiti-stained, roll-up aluminum barrier covered the ground floor of the building. How to get inside? Was the lack of an obvious entrance a precaution against prying eyes? A hidden message, a challenge?

Knowing the Leap Year Society, it was probably all three.

This suited Dr. Corwin just fine. He loved intellectual puzzles, searching for the hidden meaning of things, uncovering the patterns and enigmas strewn about the world like the pieces of a broken pearl necklace. 

In theory, a society of driven, intelligent individuals from around the globe searching for esoteric knowledge was a perfect fit for him. Yet the reality was a serpentine road that wound through a dark and tangled wood, leading to an unknown terminus that gave him a shiver of anticipation.

Whatever lay in store, he was prepared to take it on. Best to stay the course for now, rise through the ranks and discover the tantalizing secrets of the upper echelons of the Society. Secrets which the elder members dangled like ripe mangoes before their inductees.

He took a closer look at the abandoned building as steam drifted out of a sewer grate beneath his feet. Decades of neglect had left the exterior stained with soot and grime, but the architecture was exquisite. Pillars in bas-relief flanked three arched faux windows high above the street. Heavy ornamentation rich in mythology framed the windows and decorated the cornice. The white terra-cotta resembled marble at first glance, and the elaborate design—Spanish Baroque, if he wasn’t mistaken—implied an abandoned theater or museum. 

No address was visible, yet the red-brick apartment buildings on either side, both fronted by fire escapes and AC units sagging in the windows, bore street numbers above and below the one he was seeking. 

This had to be the place—but what was it? All he knew for certain was that he was supposed to get inside before midnight. 

He leaned on his ironwood cane and studied his surroundings. The smell of garbage and reefer and fried grease. Sirens in the distance, the rattle of the subway underfoot, the shouts of an angry husband drifting through a window. 

Down the street, a few drunks were heckling an old woman walking her dog. All the shops were closed except for a bar with a blinking neon sign missing letters. The Brooklyn Bridge loomed in the distance. The intrigue and danger of Chinatown lurked just around the corner. Getting involved in a shady altercation on the Lower East Side would not be a good look for a young professor. He needed to get off the street.

Could one of the sewer grates lead to an underground entrance? Perhaps, though he rather hoped it didn’t, since he loathed tight spaces. He approached the building to study the aluminum barricade. If he cut the padlock securing the bottom, he could roll up the gate. Yet this seemed too obvious a solution, and lifting the noisy barrier would alert the neighbors, along with every ruffian within earshot. 

He turned and crossed the street behind him, eyeing the building from a new perspective. Now he could see, set farther back on the flat rooftop, a boxy structure secured by an iron cage. It was too dark to tell exactly what it was. 

His gaze roamed to the fire escapes of the adjacent apartments. A set of iron stairs on the taller building ran very close to the roof of the derelict building to which he had been summoned. 

The drunks had moved on. No one else was in sight. He approached the taller apartment building, attached his cane to the custom-made loop on his belt, jumped to grab the ladder of the fire escape, and pulled himself up. A sinewy man just over six feet tall who kept himself in shape with squash and a daily exercise regimen—he was a champion cricketeer in his youth—scampering up the fire escape proved to be an easy task. 

Within moments he was balancing on a short iron railing high above the street. He checked to ensure no one was watching, then leaped across six feet of empty space to land atop an ornamental parapet on the roof of the abandoned building. His foot slipped on a patch of fresh bird droppings, and he teetered precariously on the edge, but he regained his balance and dropped lightly onto the level rooftop.

He studied his new environment in the privacy of darkness. Adjacent buildings on three sides walled him in. He now realized the iron cage on top of the building enclosed a rusty ventilation system, as well as a wooden trapdoor that provided access to the roof.

He glanced down and saw a new pair of drunks staggering up the street. 

Enemy spies in disguise?

Perhaps, though in recent years the Ascendants preferred more direct confrontation. Or at least he was told. He had never actually met a member of the rival organization. But it was a troubling trend that could endanger everyone.

Once the drunks had passed, Dr. Corwin checked the padlock securing the cage. Unlocked. He took that as a sign. After slipping inside, he shut the door and pocketed the lock. He didn’t want anyone sneaking up behind him and trapping him inside.

In case of trouble, he gripped his cane, which doubled as a weapon in a pinch. He approached the wooden trapdoor set into the floor and pulled on the handle. It creaked open, releasing a stale odor and revealing a spiral staircase that wound through a service shaft. Dr. Corwin grimaced at the claustrophobic passage and took out a penlight. Motes of dust floated in the stream of illumination as he tested the stairs. 

He closed the hinged wooden door above him. Except for a few spiders watching from the safety of their webs, there was no sign of life as he climbed down the long stairwell. At the bottom loomed a coffered wooden door, stripped of paint and streaked with moisture stains. Dr. Corwin gently twisted the knob. 

Also unlocked.

He eased the door open and found himself in a wide hallway with patches of exposed brick framed by frescoes faded to obscurity. On his left was a series of oval archways. After letting his eyes adjust, he peered inside the first archway and saw a set of carpeted steps descending into a tiered auditorium. 

He checked his watch. Five minutes to midnight.

Moldy air leached out of the vast hall. The penlight was too dim to reveal the far walls or ceiling, yet with his first step onto the stairs, a spotlight flooded the auditorium, causing him to gawk at the remains of a movie theater from a grand and bygone era. The fabric had long been stripped from the seats, plaster was peeling off the walls and ceiling, and a ruined chandelier hung over the theater like a giant bag of bones. All the rot and decaying beauty left a surreal impression, like being inside a melting painting, or trapped inside Miss Havisham’s nightmarish fever dream of jilted love. 

A trio of people emerged from the wings and walked onto the stage below him. All three wore full-length white robes and square beige masks that disguised their age and gender. Red markings with logographic and syllabic elements, a combination of hieroglyphs and runes, covered the surface of the masks. 

The trio regarded him in silence from the stage as he walked calmly down to the first row and took a seat. He understood the message imparted by the visceral power of the setting.

You might have joined us, Dr. James Gerald Corwin, but you’re still on the bottom rung of the ladder, granted an audience in an abandoned building to a trio of faceless superiors. 

An audience before a stage where all the world’s a play . . .

A stage where the curtain is thick and ancient and has yet to be pulled, and in the wings and under the deck lurk hints of secret knowledge, waiting just below the surface, layers on layers on layers. 

“Welcome,” said a deep female voice, though he could not tell which of the three had spoken. “You did well to arrive here.”

Dr. Corwin crossed his legs as he eased back into the seat. “You could have made it easier, but that’s not how this thing works, is it? Is this a safe-house location? A typical meeting place?”

“It is just an old theater.”

Dr. Corwin flashed an amused grin. “Is it, now?”

An older male voice said, “Many of us are in agreement that you’re one of our most promising adepts.”

“Obliged.”

“One who, if the course is stayed, possesses an extremely bright future.”

“If I may be so bold as to ask, with how many people am I in competition?”

“There is no competition. Only collaboration,” the man said. “All will be revealed in due course, but for now, we have a task for you.”

“An extremely important task,” the woman chimed in. “You’ve heard of Ettore Majorana?” 

Dr. Corwin blinked. “I’m a professor of theoretical physics. Of course I have.”

“Have you studied his work?”

“Yes and no. I’m aware of his contributions, but I’m hardly a Majorana scholar.”

“Ettore was once a member of the Ascendants.”

Dr. Corwin whistled. “That could explain some things.”

Decades ago, the sudden disappearance of the brilliant Italian physicist had shocked the world. Yet from what Dr. Corwin understood, many members of the Leap Year Society chose to withdraw from public life, or even disappear altogether, in order to fully commit their lives to the organization. He did not consider himself any less dedicated to the Society by remaining in his profession. Perhaps one day he would have to choose between the two, and perhaps not. In his opinion, seceding from the world did not serve a greater cause.

In any event, he did not have a trust fund, and no one had offered him one. So the issue was moot for the moment.

“On the contrary,” the woman said, “the Ascendants were just as shocked by Ettore’s disappearance as the rest of the world. In fact, they were furious.”

“Why?”

“He was working on a top-secret project for them. One of utmost importance.”

“An atomic weapon,” Dr. Corwin guessed, thinking about the time period when Ettore had vanished at sea. 1938, if memory served.

“What Ettore was developing . . . was something greater than a mere destructive device. He was pursuing no less than the theory of everything: a theorem uniting micro and macro physics.”

“Aren’t we all,” Dr. Corwin said dryly.

“He might have been successful. Or at least partly so.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand. Are you implying research beyond that which we have today?”

“Perhaps.”

Dr. Corwin uncrossed his legs and sat up straighter in the chair. He had joined the Society because of a shared ideal to solve the most profound mysteries of the universe, because the other members had impressed him—and because of the secret knowledge in the possession of the Society. So far, he had been given only a taste, a collection of curios from the past with no easy explanation. While the Society promised much more as he rose through the ranks, in truth he had his doubts. “I’m listening.”

“We don’t really know how successful he was. No one does. But Ettore made a device for the Ascendants, which they believe crossed new borders. They also believe he took it with him when he disappeared.”

“What sort of device?”

“Should you choose to accept, you’ll be given a file with more details.”

“Choose to accept what?”

The woman paused before she spoke. “Recently, knowledge has surfaced that suggests Ettore Majorana might still be alive.”

Dr. Corwin regarded each of the beige masks in turn. “How very intriguing.”

“Our sources tell us the Ascendants think so too. In fact, they’re actively seeking to find him.” 

“And you want me to do what? Try to locate him before they do?”

“Exactly that. You’re one of the top physicists of your generation. If you find Ettore, you can speak his language, appeal to his scientific sensibilities. You are not yet known to the Ascendants, at least to our knowledge. Both of these attributes weigh in your favor. It is increasingly apparent that technology will decide not just the outcome of our struggle with our former brethren, but the Cold War raging across the globe, and all future wars. We’re not convinced—in fact, we have our doubts—that Ettore, if still alive, possesses knowledge that we do not. But if he does, and if the Ascendants reach him first . . .”

“I understand.”

“We are not sure that you do. Our enemies do not share our ideals, our basic humanity. They will do anything to achieve their aims. Even worse, they believe they are all the nobler for it.”

“True believers,” Dr. Corwin muttered. “Always the most dangerous adversaries.” He toyed with a silver ring on his left index finger, imprinted with a barely visible spiral pattern. “What do I need to get started?”

“If you choose to accept, then all the background information we possess is contained in the attaché case.”

“What attaché case?”

“The one beside you.”

Dr. Corwin looked down and started. In plain sight on the seat to his left was a slender black briefcase he was sure had not been there when he sat down.

One hundred percent sure.

“Neat trick,” he said.

“This is an excellent chance for you to make your mark on the Society,” the woman said. “We apologize that we cannot send a more senior member with you, but the Ascendants are exerting pressure around the globe, and our resources are stretched thin. Should the situation change, we can reevaluate.”

“As in, don’t come asking for help unless I’m successful.”

“Some say it’s a curse to live in interesting times. We believe it’s the only way to advance the human narrative. Will you help us find Ettore, James?”

With an easy grin that belied the intensity of his stare, Dr. Corwin laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair again. “It just so happens I’m on summer break.”

Bologna, Italy

Present Day

-1-

From the back seat of the silver Alfa Romeo sedan speeding through the Italian countryside in the deep of night, Andie felt as if they were driving through cotton, the pervasive fog a veil of mystery separating the starry sky from the fecund brown earth of the Po River Valley. Cal was sitting beside her, glancing nervously out the rear window. When the fog cleared, bursts of heat lightning illuminated the flat landscape, jagged tongues of raw energy that added to her unease. 

Had anyone seen them leave the Venetian cemetery?

Had Zawadi survived?

Could Andie and Cal trust the sedan’s driver—the tall blond-haired man who had saved them from Omer less than two hours ago? Due to the driver’s accent, aquiline nose, and strong jaw, Andie had guessed he was Scandinavian, but so far he had said very little other than providing a name—Henrik.

Earlier, when fleeing across the Venetian lagoon in a cigarette boat, Henrik had veered away from the airport and toward a collection of squat manufacturing buildings pockmarking the shore. Barely slowing as they entered an inlet that cut through the buildings, Henrik had guided the boat through a nest of canals to a slip outside a shuttered warehouse. He had tied the vessel off, jumped onto the creaky aluminum dock, and led them to the front of the warehouse, where the Alfa Romeo was waiting like a diamond in a coal mine of industrial blight. 

Henrik had driven among the buildings with his lights off until they reached a small road, which merged with a succession of larger ones until it joined Autostrada A13 outside Padua.

So far, Henrik had refused to answer questions. Sensing the urgency of the situation, Andie had kept quiet, knowing they had little choice in the matter and letting him concentrate.

But now it was time for some answers.

“Thank you for saving us,” she said.

Henrik gave a curt nod.

“Any word from Zawadi?” she asked.

“Not yet.”

“Is that a bad sign?”

“It could mean any number of things. With Zawadi, I’ve learned not to assume the worst.”

“Why not? Who is she?”

“I’ll let her answer that question.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“To a safe house in Bologna. It’s not far.”

Cal finally turned away from the window. “A safe house provided by who?”

Henrik’s penetrating gaze slipped to the rearview mirror. “I would think by now you know.”

“The Leap Year Society? It’d be nice to hear you say it.”

Henrik’s attention returned to the road.

Bologna, Andie thought. The same city where Dr. Corwin was shot and killed—unless, as she fervently hoped, he was somehow still alive. 

“Is the city safe?” she asked.

“It used to be,” Henrik said darkly. “Times have changed.”

“Because of the Ascendants?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Cal said, “There’s something I’ve been wondering—if the CEO of Aegis International is an Ascendant, why did he have the symbol of the Leap Year Society on his computer?”

“Because the usurpers cling to the delusion they represent the true spirit of the Society.”

Andie asked a few more questions that Henrik refused to answer, which annoyed the hell out of her. Though exhausted by the ordeal, she forced herself to stay awake on the drive through the uninspiring outskirts of Bologna and into the softly glowing historic center, where a handful of slender stone towers dominated the skyline. They passed countless piazzas and basilicas, street after street of elegant buildings with wide arched porticos. 

Henrik turned onto a quiet avenue and pulled to a stop. The empty porticos lining the street resembled corridors of Roman ruins in the darkness. Henrik hustled them out of the car, stepped beneath a portico, and approached a fifteen-foot wooden door with iron studs and a brass knocker in the shape of a snake eating its own tail. Another ouroboros. Andie had seen a similar symbol used by the Leap Year Society on numerous occasions along her journey.

Henrik handed her a pair of keys. “These unlock this door and the apartment at the top of the stairs. Someone will come for you tomorrow night.”

“You’re not staying?” she said.

“I have other duties.”

“Who’s coming for us? Where will they take us?”

“Goddammit,” Cal said, “you can’t just leave us here like this.”

Henrik hesitated. “You’ll be given more information tomorrow, I promise. You’re not prisoners and are free to leave at any time. Though with the threat level so high, I’d advise staying in the building.”

“What happens tomorrow night?” Andie said. “Have you heard from Dr. Corwin?”

“No one has, and I have to go. There’s plenty of food in the apartment. Are you carrying any electronics besides Dr. Corwin’s device?

“We were prisoners in a medieval torture chamber a few hours ago. So no.”

“Keep it that way. And good luck.”

As Henrik drove off in the Alfa Romeo, Cal touched her arm. “Come on,” he said. “We should get out of sight.”

Frustrated, Andie opened the heavy door to the building and made sure it locked behind them. Inside, an unlit hallway led past an interior courtyard dotted with marble statues and plants in huge terra-cotta pots. The salmon-pink plaster was flaking off the walls, and the plants looked starved for attention. Despite its shabby condition, the building evoked a grander era and felt oversize, similar to much of the architecture they had seen on the drive in. As if Bologna were built for a race of aristocratic giants. 

Just past the courtyard, a stairwell led to the upper stories. They climbed six floors to a door at the very top. Andie caught her breath as she tried the key, half expecting someone to jump out at them, but the key worked on both latches and no shadowy forms emerged from the darkness.

Cal flicked a light switch as Andie locked the door behind them. The light revealed a cozy, wood-floored apartment with an open layout and a sloping ceiling that reminded Andie of her childhood attic. Directly ahead was a sitting area and a dining table with chairs. The kitchen was off to the right. Bookshelves, framed prints and cinema posters, and a few curios were interspersed throughout the room. The prints were Klimt and van Gogh, the posters from classic Italian cinema. 

A hallway past the kitchen led to a modest bedroom suite. Except for a terrace that overlooked the city off the main living area, that was it. No ancient secrets or mysterious furnishings or radical technology. Just a top-floor apartment they might have found on Airbnb, and which looked as if it belonged to a middle-aged Italian bohemian. Though a bit disconcerting, it was a welcome haven of normality after everything they had been through. 

Before they relaxed, they inspected every nook and cranny of the apartment, searching for hidden cameras, listening devices, false doors, or anything else suspicious. For good measure, Andie even did a walk-through with the Star Phone, wondering if the device would reveal any secrets when trained on the walls or objects.

Nothing.

No one.

As boring as central Kansas. 

“First things first,” Cal said as he rummaged through the fridge and pulled out a block of cheese, a mortadella roll, and a Peroni. “If someone’s coming to kill us tonight, I’d prefer to die on a full stomach.”

Andie grabbed a couple of plates and another beer, and joined him in the sitting area. She was too tired to bother with the bottle of red wine on the counter. “I suppose they wouldn’t bring us all this way just to poison us.”

Through a set of French doors that opened onto the terrace, she glimpsed a flash of lightning. The ghostly aura of the backlit city mirrored her state of mind. Ever since she had left Durham, the journey to find her mentor had felt like a harried swim through fathomless dark waters, illuminated at times—and all too briefly—by flashes of enlightenment. She was reminded of the legend of the blind men who had never encountered an elephant before, and who conceptualized its form based on which part of the pachyderm they touched. This of course led to wildly different opinions as to the true nature of an elephant.

What was the Leap Year Society? When had the group started, who was chosen for it, what were its aims? 

How did the Ascendants fit in, and who the hell was the Archon?

What was the Enneagon that Dr. Corwin had invented? 

Most mysterious of all, what was the place called the Fold, which the LYS and the Ascendants seemed to know about, and which Andie might have glimpsed in her strange visions throughout her life?

“I wonder if we’ll get some answers tomorrow,” Cal said, reflecting her thoughts. 

She sat with her back against the side arm of the sofa, her knees propped in front of her, sipping her beer. “You know what I think?”

“Lay it on me.”

“I think this apartment may belong to the LYS, but has nothing else to do with them. I think this is where they keep the outsiders.”

Cal lowered a piece of cheese he was about to nibble. “What if tomorrow night isn’t about helping us at all? What if they want to interrogate us like the Ascendants did? What if they have someone . . .”

Andie knew what he was thinking. What if they have someone like the Archon who can toy with our minds? 

“Why leave us in this cozy apartment if that was their intention?” she said. “You’re being too paranoid.”

“Are we really free to go? Maybe they’re watching us right now and plan to trail us when we leave.”

“They could have left us to rot in the dungeon or locked us up tonight. I think it’s worth the risk. And I’m not sure we can survive on our own.”

He muttered a reply under his breath. They ate in silence, letting the alcohol calm their nerves. Cal’s eyes were less hollow than when they had arrived, which relieved Andie, though her own exhaustion and emotional turmoil had left her feeling like a dishrag wrung out by a sumo wrestler. She could only imagine how he was feeling, after countless hours imprisoned behind a brick wall with no food or water.

“Nightcap?” he said after a while.

“Sure.”

He rose and returned with two more beers, then hunched forward on the sofa. “I agree we should hear them out. If we don’t like what they say, or if they don’t show tomorrow night, then we get the hell out of Dodge.”

Andie was facing the patio. The intensity of the heat lightning had increased, etching patterns of fading light into the sky. “Agreed.”

* * *

Andie slept like the dead.

As light slanted through the bedroom window the next morning, she stared at the thick wooden beams on the ceiling and wished it were all a bad dream.

Dr. Corwin shot in cold blood in this very city, either dead or imprisoned.

Her mother—who, until Venice, Andie had not seen since she was a child—trapped in some cultlike secret society, so terrified of their mysterious leader she had let them take her own daughter away. 

Andie had refused to turn over the Star Phone, and perhaps her mother hadn’t had a choice. Still, Andie knew if it were her decision, her child, she would fight like a cornered wolverine before letting those bastards win. 

Just like she was going to do for her mother—and for Dr. Corwin.

She couldn’t shake that last haunting image of her mother’s eyes. She was crying out for help. Andie knew it in her bones. Maybe the Archon controlled her mother to such a degree that she was no longer making her own decisions. Maybe her mother had risked life and limb to contact Andie in the first place and would do anything to help her, if given the chance. 

Or maybe her mother had the safety of someone else to consider. Maybe that was why she had left in the first place, forced to make a terrible choice between Andie and her children by another marriage, who were also at risk.

That was a dangerous road to go down, Andie knew, because she wanted so very much to have a Hollywood ending, for none of this to be her mother’s fault, for the two of them to walk hand in hand into the sunset. 

Despite everything that had happened, her years of silent suffering and rage at the world, Andie still gave her mother the benefit of the doubt. 

Why? she wanted to scream. Why does she deserve that?

Except Andie knew. 

No matter what had happened all those years ago, for better or for worse, she had only one mother. Samantha Zephyr was her flesh and blood, her creator. Andie didn’t know if she could ever truly forgive her, but she would always love her—and she was going to do everything in her power to secure her release.

In Andie’s mind, the math was simple. The Ascendants wanted the Enneagon above all else, and Dr. Corwin’s enigmatic invention was the only thing she could barter for her mother’s and her mentor’s safe return. 

According to Dr. Corwin’s journal, and from everything she had witnessed, the Star Phone puzzle led to the Enneagon. She didn’t know why the Ascendants wanted it—was it a weapon, an explosive new technology?—and it didn’t really matter. Because no matter the cost, no matter where it led her, she was going to follow the Star Phone to the bitter end. Unless and until a better avenue presented itself, that was the only plan she had.

After a deep breath, she stretched like a cat and rolled out of bed. Through the closed bedroom door, she heard Cal snoring. He had fallen asleep on the couch before he finished his second beer. 

Outside the bedroom window, she saw a street with flowerpots on the windowsills, and orange blossoms sprinkling the sidewalks. A server was setting up tables outside a trattoria. After a long shower, Andie threw on a silky blue bathrobe she found in an armoire, and carried her filthy clothes to the bathroom sink. She left them to soak as she made scrambled eggs and toast. 

“Ahh, waking up to the aroma of breakfast that someone else is cooking,” Cal said, sitting up on the couch with a yawn. “How about some bacon?”

“How about kissing my ass? Put your dirty clothes in the sink, and the rinsing is on you. There’s another bathrobe in the armoire.”

He pushed to his feet. “Yes, drill sergeant Andie.”

By the time he returned in a silk bathrobe with black trim, Andie had carried two plates to the table. 

Cal rolled back the sleeves of his robe. “I look fairly ridiculous.” 

“I won’t disagree. This is hardly my natural habitat.”

“The eggs are delicious,” he said, “and I was just kidding. I love to cook.”

“I loathe it. I had to cook for my dad almost every night growing up. I’d be happy with takeout the rest of my life.”

“My dad didn’t lift a finger at home either. Not unless it was to smack me.”

“Mine is a gentle guy. He’s just an alcoholic who can’t fend for himself and had no business raising a child.”

“Ah, the good old days.”

“What about your mom?” Andie asked. “Was she around?”

Cal took a moment to answer. “She was there. And she was awesome. We split from my dad and took off for LA when I was fifteen.” He averted his eyes, leaving a story untold. “There’s something I’ve been thinking about.”

“Yeah?”

“The Ascendants and this Enneagon thing. I get that human beings crave answers to the big questions. And I understand this technology could be groundbreaking, or might access this Fold place—if it really exists. But even with all of that . . . is it really worth the lengths they’re going to? Am I just being dense?”

“I think some of these answers only the Ascendants and the Leap Year Society can give us,” she said slowly, “especially concerning the Fold. But in terms of groundbreaking technology, these very same questions were raised in the early twentieth century, when relativity and quantum mechanics had just been discovered. Why pour all of these private and government resources into these bizarre theories, everyone wanted to know? How relevant are they to our everyday lives?”

“Exactly. Who the hell cares if a theoretical cat is alive or dead at the same time? Or if a black hole might swallow our planet fifty trillion years in the future?”

“The desire for knowledge is reason enough for me. What’s more worthy than developing a better picture of the universe in which we live?”

“Feeding hungry children? Peace on Earth?”

“You’re right,” she said. “But those aims aren’t mutually exclusive. Where do you think we got nuclear energy and the transistor? CDs and DVDs? Nanotech, lasers, GPS, MRIs? Modern computers and the internet, Cal. All in less than a century. Billions of lives improved, children saved, average life spans extended. Theoretical physics isn’t science fiction. It’s quite literally the world in which we live.”

He scratched at his stubble. “That does put it in perspective.”

“The next leap in physics won’t just be a cool idea. It will be the future. Even if the theorems or the technology inside the Enneagon is a small piece of the puzzle, the value could be incalculable.”

“That’s not even considering the potential for weapons, is it? Nuclear energy was the first thing you mentioned. A new superweapon could make hydrogen bombs look like hand grenades.”

“You’re getting the picture,” she said quietly. “Apart from the economic impact, the next frontier will affect the balance of power for generations. Imagine if Hitler had managed to split the atom before the Allied powers.”

He chewed on his lip, and they finished eating in silence. After breakfast, he hung their clothes to dry on the patio while she paced the living room. Now that she was rested, she was itching for a long run or a heavy bag to pummel. An outlet for her stress and mental energy. 

“Have you thought any more about the Star Phone clue we found in Egypt?” Cal said from the couch. “The zero inside the double helix?”

“Thought about it? Yes. Made any headway beyond what we’ve already discussed? No. I’m tempted to take a cab to the nearest internet connection and do some research.”

“Do they still have cybercafés in western Europe?”

“I doubt it. There’s got to be something. A library, maybe.”

“I don’t think we should go out today. It’s too dangerous.”

Andie knew he was right, and it made her furious at the valuable time lost. They were stuck until they figured out the next destination on the Star Phone. She ran a hand through her hair as she continued to pace, hating the fact they were virtual prisoners. 

“First thing in the morning,” she said, “no matter what happens tonight, I’m researching that clue.”

Cal crossed his arms, his face still wan from his ordeal in the dungeon. “I’ll be right beside you.”

* * *

11:30 p.m.

Still no message, still no sign of anyone from the Leap Year Society.

Andie had begun to give up hope, feeling bitter they had wasted an entire day. Why bother to save her and Cal if the Society was just going to abandon them? 

She thought of Zawadi, wondering if she had survived the flight through the lagoon, and remembering her final imperative before she left them at the gate to the island cemetery. 

Whatever you do, keep the Star Phone safe.

Would the Society take the device from them? Andie knew worrying about it wouldn’t change anything, but she had never been good at sitting back and letting life happen. She had spent the day conducting a more thorough search of the apartment, looking for a hidden compartment or more clues to the LYS, even checking behind the artwork and moving the appliances. When that failed, she flipped through the books on the shelves in the common room. Most of the titles concerned either world history or biographies of famous scientists, inventors, explorers, and other luminaries who had shaped the boundaries of the world.

Is there a theme? Were all these people members of the Leap Year Society?

Andie stepped through the French doors to the terrace and leaned on the wrought-iron railing, absorbing the towers and steeples rising above the jigsaw puzzle of terra-cotta rooftops. Cal was asleep on the couch. Earlier, he had impressed her by whipping up a red sauce with fresh Roma tomatoes, herbs, onions, and peppers. The aroma still lingered, mingling with the flowers on the terrace and the dusty stone smell of the rooftops.

Her eyes roamed to the heavens. The night was mild and clear, the moon still below her sight line. Stargazing had always calmed her, given her a sense of belonging that she had never found anywhere else. As a teen, whenever she felt as if her father and the rest of the world had failed her, she would drive to a nearby field and sit alone on a blanket. As the crickets chirped around her, she would feel absorbed by the stars, drawn into that infinite dark as if her soul were drifting upward, merging with the universe, becoming part of something greater. 

She still got that same peaceful feeling, except now she knew vastly more about outer space, and it enriched the experience. The Hubble Telescope—orbiting above Earth right that very moment—could peer so far away that it took snapshots of the residual light of galaxies colliding more than ten billion years in the past, drawing closer and closer to the beginning of the universe. 

Those images were mind-boggling, an entire undiscovered country. Yet Andie preferred using her own two eyes on a moonless night in the countryside. Unaided by a refracting lens, she could look up and pinpoint star clusters, nebulae, comets, other galaxies and planets, the eerie star-birthing glow of the Milky Way.

It was nothing short of a miracle. There it all was, outer space itself and swarms of distant stars, right above us every single night, a direct conduit to the boundless beauty and mystery of the universe. 

Where stargazing had once made her feel grounded, she now knew that perspective was an illusion, that if she raised her arms above her head an observer from far enough away would observe her spinning like a top on the Earth’s surface at one thousand miles per hour, racing around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles per hour, and hurtling through the Milky Way at nearly five hundred thousand miles per hour. Nothing was static. Nothing alone. Andie was born in the furnace of those stars, and she was passing through life like a celestial whirling dervish with mind-bending velocity—reaching, searching, absorbing, exuding, both infinite and mortal. 

She closed her eyes and held them shut, feeling strangely unmoored by the night sky that evening, trying to center herself amid the madness that had consumed her life since Dr. Corwin was attacked.

When she opened them again, she glimpsed a shadowy human form standing in the corner of the patio less than ten feet away.

Copyright ©2020 Reflector Entertainment Ltd. All rights reserved. 

¸.•*´(¸.•*´(¸.•*´¸.•*´★`*•.¸`*•.¸)`*•.¸)`*•.¸

About the Author: Layton Green writes in multiple genres and is the author of the upcoming Genesis Trilogy, the Dominic Grey series, the Blackwood Saga, and other works of fiction. Layton’s work has been nominated for multiple awards (including a two-time finalist for an International Thriller Writers award), optioned for film, and has reached #1 on numerous genre lists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The Shadow Cartel was a #2 overall bestseller on Amazon UK. 

In addition to writing, Layton attended law school in New Orleans and was a practicing attorney for ten very long years. He has also been an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London, a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton, a door to door phone book deliverer in Florida, and the list goes downhill from there.

Layton lives with his family in North Carolina. You can visit him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/laytongreenauthorpage/), Goodreads, or on his website (www.laytongreen.com).

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