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United Press International

 

Langdon felt suddenly confused, wondering if the news of the antimatter had already leaked out.

Vittoria seemed suddenly tense. "Why is the press here? What’s going on?"

The pilot turned and gave her an odd look over his shoulder. "What’s going on? You don’t know?"

"No," she fired back, her accent husky and strong.

"Il Conclavo," he said. "It is to be sealed in about an hour. The whole world is watching."

Il Conclavo.

The word rang a long moment in Langdon’s ears before dropping like a brick to the pit of his stomach. Il Conclavo. The Vatican Conclave. How could he have forgotten? It had been in the news recently.

Fifteen days ago, the Pope, after a tremendously popular twelve‑year reign, had passed away. Every paper in the world had carried the story about the Pope’s fatal stroke while sleeping–a sudden and unexpected death many whispered was suspicious. But now, in keeping with the sacred tradition, fifteen days after the death of a Pope, the Vatican was holding Il Conclavo–the sacred ceremony in which the 165 cardinals of the world–the most powerful men in Christendom–gathered in Vatican City to elect the new Pope.

Every cardinal on the planet is here today, Langdon thought as the chopper passed over St. Peter’s Basilica. The expansive inner world of Vatican City spread out beneath him. The entire power structure of the Roman Catholic Church is sitting on a time bomb.

 

 

 

Cardinal Mortati gazed up at the lavish ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and tried to find a moment of quiet reflection. The frescoed walls echoed with the voices of cardinals from nations around the globe. The men jostled in the candlelit tabernacle, whispering excitedly and consulting with one another in numerous languages, the universal tongues being English, Italian, and Spanish.

The light in the chapel was usually sublime–long rays of tinted sun slicing through the darkness like rays from heaven–but not today. As was the custom, all of the chapel’s windows had been covered in black velvet in the name of secrecy. This ensured that no one on the inside could send signals or communicate in any way with the outside world. The result was a profound darkness lit only by candles… a shimmering radiance that seemed to purify everyone it touched, making them all ghostly… like saints.

What privilege, Mortati thought, that I am to oversee this sanctified event. Cardinals over eighty years of age were too old to be eligible for election and did not attend conclave, but at seventy‑nine years old, Mortati was the most senior cardinal here and had been appointed to oversee the proceedings.

Following tradition, the cardinals gathered here two hours before conclave to catch up with friends and engage in last‑minute discussion. At 7 P.M., the late Pope’s chamberlain would arrive, give opening prayer, and then leave. Then the Swiss Guard would seal the doors and lock all the cardinals inside. It was then that the oldest and most secretive political ritual in the world would begin. The cardinals would not be released until they decided who among them would be the next Pope.



Conclave. Even the name was secretive. "Con clave" literally meant "locked with a key." The cardinals were permitted no contact whatsoever with the outside world. No phone calls. No messages. No whispers through doorways. Conclave was a vacuum, not to be influenced by anything in the outside world. This would ensure that the cardinals kept Solum Dum prae oculis… only God before their eyes.

Outside the walls of the chapel, of course, the media watched and waited, speculating as to which of the cardinals would become the ruler of one billion Catholics worldwide. Conclaves created an intense, politically charged atmosphere, and over the centuries they had turned deadly: poisonings, fist fights, and even murder had erupted within the sacred walls. Ancient history, Mortati thought. Tonight’s conclave will be unified, blissful, and above allbrief.

Or at least that had been his speculation.

Now, however, an unexpected development had emerged. Mystifyingly, four cardinals were absent from the chapel. Mortati knew that all the exits to Vatican City were guarded, and the missing cardinals could not have gone far, but still, with less than an hour before opening prayer, he was feeling disconcerted. After all, the four missing men were no ordinary cardinals. They were the cardinals.

The chosen four.

As overseer of the conclave, Mortati had already sent word through the proper channels to the Swiss Guard alerting them to the cardinals’ absence. He had yet to hear back. Other cardinals had now noticed the puzzling absence. The anxious whispers had begun. Of all cardinals, these four should be on time! Cardinal Mortati was starting to fear it might be a long evening after all.

He had no idea.

 

 

 

The Vatican’s helipad, for reasons of safety and noise control, is located in the northwest tip of Vatican City, as far from St. Peter’s Basilica as possible.

"Terra firma," the pilot announced as they touched down. He exited and opened the sliding door for Langdon and Vittoria.

Langdon descended from the craft and turned to help Vittoria, but she had already dropped effortlessly to the ground. Every muscle in her body seemed tuned to one objective–finding the antimatter before it left a horrific legacy.

After stretching a reflective sun tarp across the cockpit window, the pilot ushered them to an oversized electric golf cart waiting near the helipad. The cart whisked them silently alongside the country’s western border–a fifty‑foot‑tall cement bulwark thick enough to ward off attacks even by tanks. Lining the interior of the wall, posted at fifty‑meter intervals, Swiss Guards stood at attention, surveying the interior of the grounds. The cart turned sharply right onto Via della Osservatorio. Signs pointed in all directions:


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 803


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