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Palazzio Governatorio

Collegio Ethiopiana

Basilica San Pietro

Capella Sistina

They accelerated up the manicured road past a squat building marked Radio Vaticana. This, Langdon realized to his amazement, was the hub of the world’s most listened‑to radio programming–Radio Vaticana–spreading the word of God to millions of listeners around the globe.

"Attenzione," the pilot said, turning sharply into a rotary.

As the cart wound round, Langdon could barely believe the sight now coming into view. Giardini Vaticani, he thought. The heart of Vatican City. Directly ahead rose the rear of St. Peter’s Basilica, a view, Langdon realized, most people never saw. To the right loomed the Palace of the Tribunal, the lush papal residence rivaled only by Versailles in its baroque embellishment. The severe‑looking Governatorato building was now behind them, housing Vatican City’s administration. And up ahead on the left, the massive rectangular edifice of the Vatican Museum. Langdon knew there would be no time for a museum visit this trip.

"Where is everyone?" Vittoria asked, surveying the deserted lawns and walkways.

The guard checked his black, military‑style chronograph–an odd anachronism beneath his puffy sleeve. "The cardinals are convened in the Sistine Chapel. Conclave begins in a little under an hour."

Langdon nodded, vaguely recalling that before conclave the cardinals spent two hours inside the Sistine Chapel in quiet reflection and visitations with their fellow cardinals from around the globe. The time was meant to renew old friendships among the cardinals and facilitate a less heated election process. "And the rest of the residents and staff?"

"Banned from the city for secrecy and security until the conclave concludes."

"And when does it conclude?"

The guard shrugged. "God only knows." The words sounded oddly literal.

After parking the cart on the wide lawn directly behind St. Peter’s Basilica, the guard escorted Langdon and Vittoria up a stone escarpment to a marble plaza off the back of the basilica. Crossing the plaza, they approached the rear wall of the basilica and followed it through a triangular courtyard, across Via Belvedere, and into a series of buildings closely huddled together. Langdon’s art history had taught him enough Italian to pick out signs for the Vatican Printing Office, the Tapestry Restoration Lab, Post Office Management, and the Church of St. Ann. They crossed another small square and arrived at their destination.

The Office of the Swiss Guard is housed adjacent to Il Corpo di Vigilanza, directly northeast of St. Peter’s Basilica. The office is a squat, stone building. On either side of the entrance, like two stone statues, stood a pair of guards.

Langdon had to admit, these guards did not look quite so comical. Although they also wore the blue and gold uniform, each wielded the traditional "Vatican long sword"–an eight‑foot spear with a razor‑sharp scythe–rumored to have decapitated countless Muslims while defending the Christian crusaders in the fifteenth century.



As Langdon and Vittoria approached, the two guards stepped forward, crossing their long swords, blocking the entrance. One looked up at the pilot in confusion. "I pantaloni," he said, motioning to Vittoria’s shorts.

The pilot waved them off. "Il comandante vuole vederli subito."

The guards frowned. Reluctantly they stepped aside.

Inside, the air was cool. It looked nothing like the administrative security offices Langdon would have imagined. Ornate and impeccably furnished, the hallways contained paintings Langdon was certain any museum worldwide would gladly have featured in its main gallery.

The pilot pointed down a steep set of stairs. "Down, please."

Langdon and Vittoria followed the white marble treads as they descended between a gauntlet of nude male sculptures. Each statue wore a fig leaf that was lighter in color than the rest of the body.

The Great Castration, Langdon thought.

It was one of the most horrific tragedies in Renaissance art. In 1857, Pope Pius IX decided that the accurate representation of the male form might incite lust inside the Vatican. So he got a chisel and mallet and hacked off the genitalia of every single male statue inside Vatican City. He defaced works by Michelangelo, Bramante, and Bernini. Plaster fig leaves were used to patch the damage. Hundreds of sculptures had been emasculated. Langdon had often wondered if there was a huge crate of stone penises someplace.

"Here," the guard announced.

They reached the bottom of the stairs and dead‑ended at a heavy, steel door. The guard typed an entry code, and the door slid open. Langdon and Vittoria entered.

Beyond the threshold was absolute mayhem.

 

 

 

The Office of the Swiss Guard.

Langdon stood in the doorway, surveying the collision of centuries before them. Mixed media. The room was a lushly adorned Renaissance library complete with inlaid bookshelves, oriental carpets, and colorful tapestries… and yet the room bristled with high‑tech gear–banks of computers, faxes, electronic maps of the Vatican complex, and televisions tuned to CNN. Men in colorful pantaloons typed feverishly on computers and listened intently in futuristic headphones.

"Wait here," the guard said.

Langdon and Vittoria waited as the guard crossed the room to an exceptionally tall, wiry man in a dark blue military uniform. He was talking on a cellular phone and stood so straight he was almost bent backward. The guard said something to him, and the man shot a glance over at Langdon and Vittoria. He nodded, then turned his back on them and continued his phone call.

The guard returned. "Commander Olivetti will be with you in a moment."

"Thank you."

The guard left and headed back up the stairs.

Langdon studied Commander Olivetti across the room, realizing he was actually the Commander in Chief of the armed forces of an entire country. Vittoria and Langdon waited, observing the action before them. Brightly dressed guards bustled about yelling orders in Italian.

"Continua cercando!" one yelled into a telephone.

"Probasti il musèo?" another asked.

Langdon did not need fluent Italian to discern that the security center was currently in intense search mode. This was the good news. The bad news was that they obviously had not yet found the antimatter.

"You okay?" Langdon asked Vittoria.

She shrugged, offering a tired smile.

When the commander finally clicked off his phone and approached across the room, he seemed to grow with each step. Langdon was tall himself and not accustomed to looking up at many people, but Commander Olivetti demanded it. Langdon sensed immediately that the commander was a man who had weathered tempests, his face hale and steeled. His dark hair was cropped in a military buzz cut, and his eyes burned with the kind of hardened determination only attainable through years of intense training. He moved with ramrod exactness, the earpiece hidden discreetly behind one ear making him look more like U.S. Secret Service than Swiss Guard.

The commander addressed them in accented English. His voice was startlingly quiet for such a large man, barely a whisper. It bit with a tight, military efficiency. "Good afternoon," he said. "I am Commander Olivetti–Comandante Principale of the Swiss Guard. I’m the one who called your director."

Vittoria gazed upward. "Thank you for seeing us, sir."

The commander did not respond. He motioned for them to follow and led them through the tangle of electronics to a door in the side wall of the chamber. "Enter," he said, holding the door for them.

Langdon and Vittoria walked through and found themselves in a darkened control room where a wall of video monitors was cycling lazily through a series of black‑and‑white images of the complex. A young guard sat watching the images intently.

"Fuori," Olivetti said.

The guard packed up and left.

Olivetti walked over to one of the screens and pointed to it. Then he turned toward his guests. "This image is from a remote camera hidden somewhere inside Vatican City. I’d like an explanation."

Langdon and Vittoria looked at the screen and inhaled in unison. The image was absolute. No doubt. It was CERN’s antimatter canister. Inside, a shimmering droplet of metallic liquid hung ominously in the air, lit by the rhythmic blinking of the LED digital clock. Eerily, the area around the canister was almost entirely dark, as if the antimatter were in a closet or darkened room. At the top of the monitor flashed superimposed text: Live Feed–Camera #86.

Vittoria looked at the time remaining on the flashing indicator on the canister. "Under six hours," she whispered to Langdon, her face tense.

Langdon checked his watch. "So we have until…" He stopped, a knot tightening in his stomach.

"Midnight," Vittoria said, with a withering look.

Midnight, Langdon thought. A flair for the dramatic. Apparently whoever stole the canister last night had timed it perfectly. A stark foreboding set in as he realized he was currently sitting at ground zero.

Olivetti’s whisper now sounded more like a hiss. "Does this object belong to your facility?"

Vittoria nodded. "Yes, sir. It was stolen from us. It contains an extremely combustible substance called antimatter."

Olivetti looked unmoved. "I am quite familiar with incendiaries, Ms. Vetra. I have not heard of antimatter."

"It’s new technology. We need to locate it immediately or evacuate Vatican City."

Olivetti closed his eyes slowly and reopened them, as if refocusing on Vittoria might change what he just heard. "Evacuate? Are you aware what is going on here this evening?"

"Yes, sir. And the lives of your cardinals are in danger. We have about six hours. Have you made any headway locating the canister?"

Olivetti shook his head. "We haven’t started looking."

Vittoria choked. "What? But we expressly heard your guards talking about searching the–"

"Searching, yes," Olivetti said, "but not for your canister. My men are looking for something else that does not concern you."

Vittoria’s voice cracked. "You haven’t even begun looking for this canister?"

Olivetti’s pupils seemed to recede into his head. He had the passionless look of an insect. "Ms. Vetra, is it? Let me explain something to you. The director of your facility refused to share any details about this object with me over the phone except to say that I needed to find it immediately. We are exceptionally busy, and I do not have the luxury of dedicating manpower to a situation until I get some facts."

"There is only one relevant fact at this moment, sir," Vittoria said, "that being that in six hours that device is going to vaporize this entire complex."

Olivetti stood motionless. "Ms. Vetra, there is something you need to know." His tone hinted at patronizing. "Despite the archaic appearance of Vatican City, every single entrance, both public and private, is equipped with the most advanced sensing equipment known to man. If someone tried to enter with any sort of incendiary device it would be detected instantly. We have radioactive isotope scanners, olfactory filters designed by the American DEA to detect the faintest chemical signatures of combustibles and toxins. We also use the most advanced metal detectors and X‑ray scanners available."

"Very impressive," Vittoria said, matching Olivetti’s cool. "Unfortunately, antimatter is nonradioactive, its chemical signature is that of pure hydrogen, and the canister is plastic. None of those devices would have detected it."

"But the device has an energy source," Olivetti said, motioning to the blinking LED. "Even the smallest trace of nickel‑cadmium would register as–"

"The batteries are also plastic."

Olivetti’s patience was clearly starting to wane. "Plastic batteries?"

"Polymer gel electrolyte with Teflon."

Olivetti leaned toward her, as if to accentuate his height advantage. "Signorina, the Vatican is the target of dozens of bomb threats a month. I personally train every Swiss Guard in modern explosive technology. I am well aware that there is no substance on earth powerful enough to do what you are describing unless you are talking about a nuclear warhead with a fuel core the size of a baseball."

Vittoria framed him with a fervent stare. "Nature has many mysteries yet to unveil."

Olivetti leaned closer. "Might I ask exactly who you are? What is your position at CERN?"

"I am a senior member of the research staff and appointed liaison to the Vatican for this crisis."

"Excuse me for being rude, but if this is indeed a crisis, why am I dealing with you and not your director? And what disrespect do you intend by coming into Vatican City in short pants?"

Langdon groaned. He couldn’t believe that under the circumstances the man was being a stickler for dress code. Then again, he realized, if stone penises could induce lustful thoughts in Vatican residents, Vittoria Vetra in shorts could certainly be a threat to national security.

"Commander Olivetti," Langdon intervened, trying to diffuse what looked like a second bomb about to explode. "My name is Robert Langdon. I’m a professor of religious studies in the U.S. and unaffiliated with CERN. I have seen an antimatter demonstration and will vouch for Ms. Vetra’s claim that it is exceptionally dangerous. We have reason to believe it was placed inside your complex by an antireligious cult hoping to disrupt your conclave."

Olivetti turned, peering down at Langdon. "I have a woman in shorts telling me that a droplet of liquid is going to blow up Vatican City, and I have an American professor telling me we are being targeted by some antireligious cult. What exactly is it you expect me to do?"

"Find the canister," Vittoria said. "Right away."

"Impossible. That device could be anywhere. Vatican City is enormous."

"Your cameras don’t have GPS locators on them?"

"They are not generally stolen. This missing camera will take days to locate."

"We don’t have days," Vittoria said adamantly. "We have six hours."

"Six hours until what, Ms. Vetra?" Olivetti’s voice grew louder suddenly. He pointed to the image on the screen. "Until these numbers count down? Until Vatican City disappears? Believe me, I do not take kindly to people tampering with my security system. Nor do I like mechanical contraptions appearing mysteriously inside my walls. I am concerned. It is my job to be concerned. But what you have told me here is unacceptable."

Langdon spoke before he could stop himself. "Have you heard of the Illuminati?"

The commander’s icy exterior cracked. His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack. "I am warning you. I do not have time for this."

"So you have heard of the Illuminati?"

Olivetti’s eyes stabbed like bayonets. "I am a sworn defendant of the Catholic Church. Of course I have heard of the Illuminati. They have been dead for decades."

Langdon reached in his pocket and pulled out the fax image of Leonardo Vetra’s branded body. He handed it to Olivetti.

"I am an Illuminati scholar," Langdon said as Olivetti studied the picture. "I am having a difficult time accepting that the Illuminati are still active, and yet the appearance of this brand combined with the fact that the Illuminati have a well‑known covenant against Vatican City has changed my mind."

"A computer‑generated hoax." Olivetti handed the fax back to Langdon.

Langdon stared, incredulous. "Hoax? Look at the symmetry! You of all people should realize the authenticity of–"

"Authenticity is precisely what you lack. Perhaps Ms. Vetra has not informed you, but CERN scientists have been criticizing Vatican policies for decades. They regularly petition us for retraction of Creationist theory, formal apologies for Galileo and Copernicus, repeal of our criticism against dangerous or immoral research. What scenario seems more likely to you–that a four‑hundred‑year‑old satanic cult has resurfaced with an advanced weapon of mass destruction, or that some prankster at CERN is trying to disrupt a sacred Vatican event with a well‑executed fraud?"

"That photo," Vittoria said, her voice like boiling lava, "is of my father. Murdered. You think this is my idea of a joke?"

"I don’t know, Ms. Vetra. But I do know until I get some answers that make sense, there is no way I will raise any sort of alarm. Vigilance and discretion are my duty… such that spiritual matters can take place here with clarity of mind. Today of all days."

Langdon said, "At least postpone the event."

"Postpone?" Olivetti’s jaw dropped. "Such arrogance! A conclave is not some American baseball game you call on account of rain. This is a sacred event with a strict code and process. Never mind that one billion Catholics in the world are waiting for a leader. Never mind that the world media is outside. The protocols for this event are holy–not subject to modification. Since 1179, conclaves have survived earthquakes, famines, and even the plague. Believe me, it is not about to be canceled on account of a murdered scientist and a droplet of God knows what."

"Take me to the person in charge," Vittoria demanded.

Olivetti glared. "You’ve got him."

"No," she said. "Someone in the clergy."

The veins on Olivetti’s brow began to show. "The clergy has gone. With the exception of the Swiss Guard, the only ones present in Vatican City at this time are the College of Cardinals. And they are inside the Sistine Chapel."

"How about the chamberlain?" Langdon stated flatly.

"Who?"

"The late Pope’s chamberlain." Langdon repeated the word self‑assuredly, praying his memory served him. He recalled reading once about the curious arrangement of Vatican authority following the death of a Pope. If Langdon was correct, during the interim between Popes, complete autonomous power shifted temporarily to the late Pope’s personal assistant–his chamberlain–a secretarial underling who oversaw conclave until the cardinals chose the new Holy Father. "I believe the chamberlain is the man in charge at the moment."

"Il camerlegno?" Olivetti scowled. "The camerlegno is only a priest here. He is not even canonized. He is the late Pope’s hand servant."

"But he is here. And you answer to him."

Olivetti crossed his arms. "Mr. Langdon, it is true that Vatican rule dictates the camerlegno assume chief executive office during conclave, but it is only because his lack of eligibility for the papacy ensures an unbiased election. It is as if your president died, and one of his aides temporarily sat in the oval office. The camerlegno is young, and his understanding of security, or anything else for that matter, is extremely limited. For all intents and purposes, I am in charge here."

"Take us to him," Vittoria said.

"Impossible. Conclave begins in forty minutes. The camerlegno is in the Office of the Pope preparing. I have no intention of disturbing him with matters of security."

Vittoria opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by a knocking at the door. Olivetti opened it.

A guard in full regalia stood outside, pointing to his watch. "Éé l’ora, comandante."

Olivetti checked his own watch and nodded. He turned back to Langdon and Vittoria like a judge pondering their fate. "Follow me." He led them out of the monitoring room across the security center to a small clear cubicle against the rear wall. "My office." Olivetti ushered them inside. The room was unspecial–a cluttered desk, file cabinets, folding chairs, a water cooler. "I will be back in ten minutes. I suggest you use the time to decide how you would like to proceed."

Vittoria wheeled. "You can’t just leave! That canister is–"

"I do not have time for this," Olivetti seethed. "Perhaps I should detain you until after the conclave when I do have time."

"Signore," the guard urged, pointing to his watch again. "Spazzare di capella."

Olivetti nodded and started to leave.

"Spazzare di capella?" Vittoria demanded. "You’re leaving to sweep the chapel?"

Olivetti turned, his eyes boring through her. "We sweep for electronic bugs, Miss Vetra–a matter of discretion." He motioned to her legs. "Not something I would expect you to understand."

With that he slammed the door, rattling the heavy glass. In one fluid motion he produced a key, inserted it, and twisted. A heavy deadbolt slid into place.

"Idiòta!" Vittoria yelled. "You can’t keep us in here!"

Through the glass, Langdon could see Olivetti say something to the guard. The sentinel nodded. As Olivetti strode out of the room, the guard spun and faced them on the other side of the glass, arms crossed, a large sidearm visible on his hip.

Perfect, Langdon thought. Just bloody perfect.

 

 

 

 

Vittoria glared at the Swiss Guard standing outside Olivetti’s locked door. The sentinel glared back, his colorful costume belying his decidedly ominous air.

"Che fiasco," Vittoria thought. Held hostage by an armed man in pajamas.

Langdon had fallen silent, and Vittoria hoped he was using that Harvard brain of his to think them out of this. She sensed, however, from the look on his face, that he was more in shock than in thought. She regretted getting him so involved.

Vittoria’s first instinct was to pull out her cell phone and call Kohler, but she knew it was foolish. First, the guard would probably walk in and take her phone. Second, if Kohler’s episode ran its usual course, he was probably still incapacitated. Not that it mattered… Olivetti seemed unlikely to take anybody’s word on anything at the moment.

Remember! she told herself. Remember the solution to this test!

Remembrance was a Buddhist philosopher’s trick. Rather than asking her mind to search for a solution to a potentially impossible challenge, Vittoria asked her mind simply to remember it. The presupposition that one once knew the answer created the mindset that the answer must exist… thus eliminating the crippling conception of hopelessness. Vittoria often used the process to solve scientific quandaries… those that most people thought had no solution.

At the moment, however, her remembrance trick was drawing a major blank. So she measured her options… her needs. She needed to warn someone. Someone at the Vatican needed to take her seriously. But who? The camerlegno? How? She was in a glass box with one exit.

Tools, she told herself. There are always tools. Reevaluate your environment.

Instinctively she lowered her shoulders, relaxed her eyes, and took three deep breaths into her lungs. She sensed her heart rate slow and her muscles soften. The chaotic panic in her mind dissolved. Okay, she thought, let your mind be free. What makes this situation positive? What are my assets?

The analytical mind of Vittoria Vetra, once calmed, was a powerful force. Within seconds she realized their incarceration was actually their key to escape.

"I’m making a phone call," she said suddenly.

Langdon looked up. "I was about to suggest you call Kohler, but–"

"Not Kohler. Someone else."

"Who?"

"The camerlegno."

Langdon looked totally lost. "You’re calling the chamberlain? How?"

"Olivetti said the camerlegno was in the Pope’s office."

"Okay. You know the Pope’s private number?"

"No. But I’m not calling on my phone." She nodded to a high‑tech phone system on Olivetti’s desk. It was riddled with speed dial buttons. "The head of security must have a direct line to the Pope’s office."

"He also has a weight lifter with a gun planted six feet away."

"And we’re locked in."

"I was actually aware of that."

"I mean the guard is locked out. This is Olivetti’s private office. I doubt anyone else has a key."

Langdon looked out at the guard. "This is pretty thin glass, and that’s a pretty big gun."

"What’s he going to do, shoot me for using the phone?"

"Who the hell knows! This is a pretty strange place, and the way things are going–"

"Either that," Vittoria said, "or we can spend the next five hours and forty‑eight minutes in Vatican Prison. At least we’ll have a front‑row seat when the antimatter goes off."

Langdon paled. "But the guard will get Olivetti the second you pick up that phone. Besides, there are twenty buttons on there. And I don’t see any identification. You going to try them all and hope to get lucky?"

"Nope," she said, striding to the phone. "Just one." Vittoria picked up the phone and pressed the top button. "Number one. I bet you one of those Illuminati U.S. dollars you have in your pocket that this is the Pope’s office. What else would take primary importance for a Swiss Guard commander?"

Langdon did not have time to respond. The guard outside the door started rapping on the glass with the butt of his gun. He motioned for her to set down the phone.

Vittoria winked at him. The guard seemed to inflate with rage.

Langdon moved away from the door and turned back to Vittoria. "You damn well better be right, ‘cause this guy does not look amused!"

"Damn!" she said, listening to the receiver. "A recording."

"Recording?" Langdon demanded. "The Pope has an answering machine?"

"It wasn’t the Pope’s office," Vittoria said, hanging up. "It was the damn weekly menu for the Vatican commissary."

Langdon offered a weak smile to the guard outside who was now glaring angrily though the glass while he hailed Olivetti on his walkie‑talkie.

 

 

 

The Vatican switchboard is located in the Ufficio di Communicazione behind the Vatican post office. It is a relatively small room containing an eight‑line Corelco 141 switchboard. The office handles over 2,000 calls a day, most routed automatically to the recording information system.

Tonight, the sole communications operator on duty sat quietly sipping a cup of caffeinated tea. He felt proud to be one of only a handful of employees still allowed inside Vatican City tonight. Of course the honor was tainted somewhat by the presence of the Swiss Guards hovering outside his door. An escort to the bathroom, the operator thought. Ah, the indignities we endure in the name of Holy Conclave.

Fortunately, the calls this evening had been light. Or maybe it was not so fortunate, he thought. World interest in Vatican events seemed to have dwindled in the last few years. The number of press calls had thinned, and even the crazies weren’t calling as often. The press office had hoped tonight’s event would have more of a festive buzz about it. Sadly, though, despite St. Peter’s Square being filled with press trucks, the vans looked to be mostly standard Italian and Euro press. Only a handful of global cover‑all networks were there… no doubt having sent their giornalisti secundari.

The operator gripped his mug and wondered how long tonight would last. Midnight or so, he guessed. Nowadays, most insiders already knew who was favored to become Pope well before conclave convened, so the process was more of a three– or four‑hour ritual than an actual election. Of course, last‑minute dissension in the ranks could prolong the ceremony through dawn… or beyond. The conclave of 1831 had lasted fifty‑four days. Not tonight, he told himself; rumor was this conclave would be a "smoke‑watch."

The operator’s thoughts evaporated with the buzz of an inside line on his switchboard. He looked at the blinking red light and scratched his head. That’s odd, he thought. The zero‑line. Who on the inside would be calling operator information tonight? Who is even inside?

"Città del Vaticano, prego?" he said, picking up the phone.

The voice on the line spoke in rapid Italian. The operator vaguely recognized the accent as that common to Swiss Guards–fluent Italian tainted by the Franco‑Swiss influence. This caller, however, was most definitely not Swiss Guard.

On hearing the woman’s voice, the operator stood suddenly, almost spilling his tea. He shot a look back down at the line. He had not been mistaken. An internal extension. The call was from the inside. There must be some mistake! he thought. A woman inside Vatican City? Tonight?

The woman was speaking fast and furiously. The operator had spent enough years on the phones to know when he was dealing with a pazzo. This woman did not sound crazy. She was urgent but rational. Calm and efficient. He listened to her request, bewildered.

"Il camerlegno?" the operator said, still trying to figure out where the hell the call was coming from. "I cannot possibly connect… yes, I am aware he is in the Pope’s office but… who are you again?… and you want to warn him of…" He listened, more and more unnerved. Everyone is in danger? How? And where are you calling from? "Perhaps I should contact the Swiss…" The operator stopped short. "You say you’re where? Where?"

He listened in shock, then made a decision. "Hold, please," he said, putting the woman on hold before she could respond. Then he called Commander Olivetti’s direct line. There is no way that woman is really

The line picked up instantly.

"Per l’amore di Dio!" a familiar woman’s voice shouted at him. "Place the damn call!"

The door of the Swiss Guards’ security center hissed open. The guards parted as Commander Olivetti entered the room like a rocket. Turning the corner to his office, Olivetti confirmed what his guard on the walkie‑talkie had just told him; Vittoria Vetra was standing at his desk talking on the commander’s private telephone.

Che coglioni che ha questa! he thought. The balls on this one!

Livid, he strode to the door and rammed the key into the lock. He pulled open the door and demanded, "What are you doing?"

Vittoria ignored him. "Yes," she was saying into the phone. "And I must warn–"

Olivetti ripped the receiver from her hand, and raised it to his ear. "Who the hell is this?"

For the tiniest of an instant, Olivetti’s inelastic posture slumped. "Yes, camerlegno…" he said. "Correct, signore… but questions of security demand… of course not… I am holding her here for… certainly, but…" He listened. "Yes, sir," he said finally. "I will bring them up immediately."

 

 

 

The Apostolic Palace is a conglomeration of buildings located near the Sistine Chapel in the northeast corner of Vatican City. With a commanding view of St. Peter’s Square, the palace houses both the Papal Apartments and the Office of the Pope.

Vittoria and Langdon followed in silence as Commander Olivetti led them down a long rococo corridor, the muscles in his neck pulsing with rage. After climbing three sets of stairs, they entered a wide, dimly lit hallway.

Langdon could not believe the artwork on the walls–mint‑condition busts, tapestries, friezes–works worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two‑thirds of the way down the hall they passed an alabaster fountain. Olivetti turned left into an alcove and strode to one of the largest doors Langdon had ever seen.

"Ufficio di Papa," the commander declared, giving Vittoria an acrimonious scowl. Vittoria didn’t flinch. She reached over Olivetti and knocked loudly on the door.

Office of the Pope, Langdon thought, having difficulty fathoming that he was standing outside one of the most sacred rooms in all of world religion.

"Avanti!" someone called from within.

When the door opened, Langdon had to shield his eyes. The sunlight was blinding. Slowly, the image before him came into focus.

The Office of the Pope seemed more of a ballroom than an office. Red marble floors sprawled out in all directions to walls adorned with vivid frescoes. A colossal chandelier hung overhead, beyond which a bank of arched windows offered a stunning panorama of the sun‑drenched St. Peter’s Square.

My God, Langdon thought. This is a room with a view.

At the far end of the hall, at a carved desk, a man sat writing furiously. "Avanti," he called out again, setting down his pen and waving them over.

Olivetti led the way, his gait military. "Signore," he said apologetically. "No ho potuto–"

The man cut him off. He stood and studied his two visitors.

The camerlegno was nothing like the images of frail, beatific old men Langdon usually imagined roaming the Vatican. He wore no rosary beads or pendants. No heavy robes. He was dressed instead in a simple black cassock that seemed to amplify the solidity of his substantial frame. He looked to be in his late‑thirties, indeed a child by Vatican standards. He had a surprisingly handsome face, a swirl of coarse brown hair, and almost radiant green eyes that shone as if they were somehow fueled by the mysteries of the universe. As the man drew nearer, though, Langdon saw in his eyes a profound exhaustion–like a soul who had been through the toughest fifteen days of his life.

"I am Carlo Ventresca," he said, his English perfect. "The late Pope’s camerlegno." His voice was unpretentious and kind, with only the slightest hint of Italian inflection.

"Vittoria Vetra," she said, stepping forward and offering her hand. "Thank you for seeing us."

Olivetti twitched as the camerlegno shook Vittoria’s hand.

"This is Robert Langdon," Vittoria said. "A religious historian from Harvard University."

"Padre," Langdon said, in his best Italian accent. He bowed his head as he extended his hand.

"No, no," the camerlegno insisted, lifting Langdon back up. "His Holiness’s office does not make me holy. I am merely a priest–a chamberlain serving in a time of need."

Langdon stood upright.

"Please," the camerlegno said, "everyone sit." He arranged some chairs around his desk. Langdon and Vittoria sat. Olivetti apparently preferred to stand.

The camerlegno seated himself at the desk, folded his hands, sighed, and eyed his visitors.

"Signore," Olivetti said. "The woman’s attire is my fault. I–"

"Her attire is not what concerns me," the camerlegno replied, sounding too exhausted to be bothered. "When the Vatican operator calls me a half hour before I begin conclave to tell me a woman is calling from your private office to warn me of some sort of major security threat of which I have not been informed, that concerns me."

Olivetti stood rigid, his back arched like a soldier under intense inspection.

Langdon felt hypnotized by the camerlegno’s presence. Young and wearied as he was, the priest had the air of some mythical hero–radiating charisma and authority.

"Signore," Olivetti said, his tone apologetic but still unyielding. "You should not concern yourself with matters of security. You have other responsibilities."

"I am well aware of my other responsibilities. I am also aware that as direttore intermediario, I have a responsibility for the safety and well‑being of everyone at this conclave. What is going on here?"

"I have the situation under control."

"Apparently not."

"Father," Langdon interrupted, taking out the crumpled fax and handing it to the camerlegno, "please."

Commander Olivetti stepped forward, trying to intervene. "Father, please do not trouble your thoughts with–"

The camerlegno took the fax, ignoring Olivetti for a long moment. He looked at the image of the murdered Leonardo Vetra and drew a startled breath. "What is this?"

"That is my father," Vittoria said, her voice wavering. "He was a priest and a man of science. He was murdered last night."

The camerlegno’s face softened instantly. He looked up at her. "My dear child. I’m so sorry." He crossed himself and looked again at the fax, his eyes seeming to pool with waves of abhorrence. "Who would… and this burn on his…" The camerlegno paused, squinting closer at the image.

"It says Illuminati," Langdon said. "No doubt you are familiar with the name."

An odd look came across the camerlegno’s face. "I have heard the name, yes, but…"

"The Illuminati murdered Leonardo Vetra so they could steal a new technology he was–"

"Signore," Olivetti interjected. "This is absurd. The Illuminati? This is clearly some sort of elaborate hoax."

The camerlegno seemed to ponder Olivetti’s words. Then he turned and contemplated Langdon so fully that Langdon felt the air leave his lungs. "Mr. Langdon, I have spent my life in the Catholic Church. I am familiar with the Illuminati lore… and the legend of the brandings. And yet I must warn you, I am a man of the present tense. Christianity has enough real enemies without resurrecting ghosts."

"The symbol is authentic," Langdon said, a little too defensively he thought. He reached over and rotated the fax for the camerlegno.

The camerlegno fell silent when he saw the symmetry.

"Even modern computers," Langdon added, "have been unable to forge a symmetrical ambigram of this word."

The camerlegno folded his hands and said nothing for a long time. "The Illuminati are dead," he finally said. "Long ago. That is historical fact."

Langdon nodded. "Yesterday, I would have agreed with you."

"Yesterday?"

"Before today’s chain of events. I believe the Illuminati have resurfaced to make good on an ancient pact."

"Forgive me. My history is rusty. What ancient pact is this?"

Langdon took a deep breath. "The destruction of Vatican City."

"Destroy Vatican City?" The camerlegno looked less frightened than confused. "But that would be impossible."

Vittoria shook her head. "I’m afraid we have some more bad news."

 

 

 

"Is this true?" the camerlegno demanded, looking amazed as he turned from Vittoria to Olivetti.

"Signore," Olivetti assured, "I’ll admit there is some sort of device here. It is visible on one of our security monitors, but as for Ms. Vetra’s claims as to the power of this substance, I cannot possibly–"

"Wait a minute," the camerlegno said. "You can see this thing?"

"Yes, signore. On wireless camera #86."

"Then why haven’t you recovered it?" The camerlegno’s voice echoed anger now.

"Very difficult, signore." Olivetti stood straight as he explained the situation.

The camerlegno listened, and Vittoria sensed his growing concern. "Are you certain it is inside Vatican City?" the camerlegno asked. "Maybe someone took the camera out and is transmitting from somewhere else."

"Impossible," Olivetti said. "Our external walls are shielded electronically to protect our internal communications. This signal can only be coming from the inside or we would not be receiving it."

"And I assume," he said, "that you are now looking for this missing camera with all available resources?"

Olivetti shook his head. "No, signore. Locating that camera could take hundreds of man hours. We have a number of other security concerns at the moment, and with all due respect to Ms. Vetra, this droplet she talks about is very small. It could not possibly be as explosive as she claims."

Vittoria’s patience evaporated. "That droplet is enough to level Vatican City! Did you even listen to a word I told you?"

"Ma’am," Olivetti said, his voice like steel, "my experience with explosives is extensive."

"Your experience is obsolete," she fired back, equally tough. "Despite my attire, which I realize you find troublesome, I am a senior level physicist at the world’s most advanced subatomic research facility. I personally designed the antimatter trap that is keeping that sample from annihilating right now. And I am warning you that unless you find that canister in the next six hours, your guards will have nothing to protect for the next century but a big hole in the ground."

Olivetti wheeled to the camerlegno, his insect eyes flashing rage. "Signore, I cannot in good conscience allow this to go any further. Your time is being wasted by pranksters. The Illuminati? A droplet that will destroy us all?"

"Basta," the camerlegno declared. He spoke the word quietly and yet it seemed to echo across the chamber. Then there was silence. He continued in a whisper. "Dangerous or not, Illuminati or no Illuminati, whatever this thing is, it most certainly should not be inside Vatican City… no less on the eve of the conclave. I want it found and removed. Organize a search immediately."

Olivetti persisted. "Signore, even if we used all the guards to search the complex, it could take days to find this camera. Also, after speaking to Ms. Vetra, I had one of my guards consult our most advanced ballistics guide for any mention of this substance called antimatter. I found no mention of it anywhere. Nothing."

Pompous ass, Vittoria thought. A ballistics guide? Did you try an encyclopedia? Under A!

Olivetti was still talking. "Signore, if you are suggesting we make a naked‑eye search of the entirety of Vatican City then I must object."

"Commander." The camerlegno’s voice simmered with rage. "May I remind you that when you address me, you are addressing this office. I realize you do not take my position seriously–nonetheless, by law, I am in charge. If I am not mistaken, the cardinals are now safely within the Sistine Chapel, and your security concerns are at a minimum until the conclave breaks. I do not understand why you are hesitant to look for this device. If I did not know better it would appear that you are causing this conclave intentional danger."

Olivetti looked scornful. "How dare you! I have served your Pope for twelve years! And the Pope before that for fourteen years! Since 1438 the Swiss Guard have–"

The walkie‑talkie on Olivetti’s belt squawked loudly, cutting him off. "Comandante?"

Olivetti snatched it up and pressed the transmitter. "Sto ocupato! Cosa voi!"

"Scusi," the Swiss Guard on the radio said. "Communications here. I thought you would want to be informed that we have received a bomb threat."

Olivetti could not have looked less interested. "So handle it! Run the usual trace, and write it up."

"We did, sir, but the caller…" The guard paused. "I would not trouble you, commander, except that he mentioned the substance you just asked me to research. Antimatter."

Everyone in the room exchanged stunned looks.

"He mentioned what?" Olivetti stammered.

"Antimatter, sir. While we were trying to run a trace, I did some additional research on his claim. The information on antimatter is… well, frankly, it’s quite troubling."

"I thought you said the ballistics guide showed no mention of it."

"I found it on‑line."

Alleluia, Vittoria thought.

"The substance appears to be quite explosive," the guard said. "It’s hard to imagine this information is accurate but it says here that pound for pound antimatter carries about a hundred times more payload than a nuclear warhead."

Olivetti slumped. It was like watching a mountain crumble. Vittoria’s feeling of triumph was erased by the look of horror on the camerlegno’s face.

"Did you trace the call?" Olivetti stammered.

"No luck. Cellular with heavy encryption. The SAT lines are interfused, so triangulation is out. The IF signature suggests he’s somewhere in Rome, but there’s really no way to trace him."

"Did he make demands?" Olivetti said, his voice quiet.

"No, sir. Just warned us that there is antimatter hidden inside the complex. He seemed surprised I didn’t know. Asked me if I’d seen it yet. You’d asked me about antimatter, so I decided to advise you."

"You did the right thing," Olivetti said. "I’ll be down in a minute. Alert me immediately if he calls back."

There was a moment of silence on the walkie‑talkie. "The caller is still on the line, sir."

Olivetti looked like he’d just been electrocuted. "The line is open?"

"Yes, sir. We’ve been trying to trace him for ten minutes, getting nothing but splayed ferreting. He must know we can’t touch him because he refuses to hang up until he speaks to the camerlegno."

"Patch him through," the camerlegno commanded. "Now!"

Olivetti wheeled. "Father, no. A trained Swiss Guard negotiator is much better suited to handle this."

"Now!"

Olivetti gave the order.

A moment later, the phone on Camerlegno Ventresca’s desk began to ring. The camerlegno rammed his finger down on the speaker‑phone button. "Who in the name of God do you think you are?"

 

 

 

 

The voice emanating from the camerlegno’s speaker phone was metallic and cold, laced with arrogance. Everyone in the room listened.

Langdon tried to place the accent. Middle Eastern, perhaps?

"I am a messenger of an ancient brotherhood," the voice announced in an alien cadence. "A brotherhood you have wronged for centuries. I am a messenger of the Illuminati."

Langdon felt his muscles tighten, the last shreds of doubt withering away. For an instant he felt the familiar collision of thrill, privilege, and dead fear that he had experienced when he first saw the ambigram this morning.

"What do you want?" the camerlegno demanded.

"I represent men of science. Men who like yourselves are searching for the answers. Answers to man’s destiny, his purpose, his creator."

"Whoever you are," the camerlegno said, "I–"

"Silenzio. You will do better to listen. For two millennia your church has dominated the quest for truth. You have crushed your opposition with lies and prophesies of doom. You have manipulated the truth to serve your needs, murdering those whose discoveries did not serve your politics. Are you surprised you are the target of enlightened men from around the globe?"

"Enlightened men do not resort to blackmail to further their causes."

"Blackmail?" The caller laughed. "This is not blackmail. We have no demands. The abolition of the Vatican is nonnegotiable. We have waited four hundred years for this day. At midnight, your city will be destroyed. There is nothing you can do."

Olivetti stormed toward the speaker phone. "Access to this city is impossible! You could not possibly have planted explosives in here!"

"You speak with the ignorant devotion of a Swiss Guard. Perhaps even an officer? Surely you are aware that for centuries the Illuminati have infiltrated elitist organizations across the globe. Do you really believe the Vatican is immune?"

Jesus, Langdon thought, they’ve got someone on the inside. It was no secret that infiltration was the Illuminati trademark of power. They had infiltrated the Masons, major banking networks, government bodies. In fact, Churchill had once told reporters that if English spies had infiltrated the Nazis to the degree the Illuminati had infiltrated English Parliament, the war would have been over in one month.

"A transparent bluff," Olivetti snapped. "Your influence cannot possibly extend so far."

"Why? Because your Swiss Guards are vigilant? Because they watch every corner of your private world? How about the Swiss Guards themselves? Are they not men? Do you truly believe they stake their lives on a fable about a man who walks on water? Ask yourself how else the canister could have entered your city. Or how four of your most precious assets could have disappeared this afternoon."

"Our assets?" Olivetti scowled. "What do you mean?"

"One, two, three, four. You haven’t missed them by now?"

"What the hell are you talk–" Olivetti stopped short, his eyes rocketing wide as though he’d just been punched in the gut.

"Light dawns," the caller said. "Shall I read their names?"

"What’s going on?" the camerlegno said, looking bewildered.

The caller laughed. "Your officer has not yet informed you? How sinful. No surprise. Such pride. I imagine the disgrace of telling you the truth… that four cardinals he had sworn to protect seem to have disappeared…"

Olivetti erupted. "Where did you get this information!"

"Camerlegno," the caller gloated, "ask your commander if all your cardinals are present in the Sistine Chapel."

The camerlegno turned to Olivetti, his green eyes demanding an explanation.

"Signore," Olivetti whispered in the camerlegno’s ear, "it is true that four of our cardinals have not yet reported to the Sistine Chapel, but there is no need for alarm. Every one of them checked into the residence hall this morning, so we know they are safely inside Vatican City. You yourself had tea with them only hours ago. They are simply late for the fellowship preceding conclave. We are searching, but I’m sure they just lost track of time and are still out enjoying the grounds."

"Enjoying the grounds?" The calm departed from the camerlegno’s voice. "They were due in the chapel over an hour ago!"

Langdon shot Vittoria a look of amazement. Missing cardinals? So that’s what they were looking for downstairs?

"Our inventory," the caller said, "you will find quite convincing. There is Cardinal Lamassé from Paris, Cardinal Guidera from Barcelona, Cardinal Ebner from Frankfurt…"

Olivetti seemed to shrink smaller and smaller after each name was read.

The caller paused, as though taking special pleasure in the final name. "And from Italy… Cardinal Baggia."

The camerlegno loosened like a tall ship that had just run sheets first into a dead calm. His frock billowed, and he collapsed in his chair. "I preferiti," he whispered. "The four favorites… including Baggia… the most likely successor as Supreme Pontiff… how is it possible?"

Langdon had read enough about modern papal elections to understand the look of desperation on the camerlegno’s face. Although technically any cardinal under eighty years old could become Pope, only a very few had the respect necessary to command a two‑thirds majority in the ferociously partisan balloting procedure. They were known as the preferiti. And they were all gone.

Sweat dripped from the camerlegno’s brow. "What do you intend with these men?"

"What do you think I intend? I am a descendant of the Hassassin."

Langdon felt a shiver. He knew the name well. The church had made some deadly enemies through the years–the Hassassin, the Knights Templar, armies that had been either hunted by the Vatican or betrayed by them.

"Let the cardinals go," the camerlegno said. "Isn’t threatening to destroy the City of God enough?"

"Forget your four cardinals. They are lost to you. Be assured their deaths will be remembered though… by millions. Every martyr’s dream. I will make them media luminaries. One by one. By midnight the Illuminati will have everyone’s attention. Why change the world if the world is not watching? Public killings have an intoxicating horror about them, don’t they? You proved that long ago… the inquisition, the torture of the Knights Templar, the Crusades." He paused. "And of course, la purga."

The camerlegno was silent.

"Do you not recall la purga?" the caller asked. "Of course not, you are a child. Priests are poor historians, anyway. Perhaps because their history shames them?"

"La purga," Langdon heard himself say. "Sixteen sixty‑eight. The church branded four Illuminati scientists with the symbol of the cross. To purge their sins."

"Who is speaking?" the voice demanded, sounding more intrigued than concerned. "Who else is there?"

Langdon felt shaky. "My name is not important," he said, trying to keep his voice from wavering. Speaking to a living Illuminatus was disorienting for him… like speaking to George Washington. "I am an academic who has studied the history of your brotherhood."

"Superb," the voice replied. "I am pleased there are still those alive who remember the crimes against us."

"Most of us think you are dead."

"A misconception the brotherhood has worked hard to promote. What else do you know of la purga?"

Langdon hesitated. What else do I know? That this whole situation is insanity, that’s what I know! "After the brandings, the scientists were murdered, and their bodies were dropped in public locations around Rome as a warning to other scientists not to join the Illuminati."

"Yes. So we shall do the same. Quid pro quo. Consider it symbolic retribution for our slain brothers. Your four cardinals will die, one every hour starting at eight. By midnight the whole world will be enthralled."

Langdon moved toward the phone. "You actually intend to brand and kill these four men?"

"History repeats itself, does it not? Of course, we will be more elegant and bold than the church was. They killed privately, dropping bodies when no one was looking. It seems so cowardly."

"What are you saying?" Langdon asked. "That you are going to brand and kill these men in public?"

"Very good. Although it depends what you consider public. I realize not many people go to church anymore."

Langdon did a double take. "You’re going to kill them in churches?"

"A gesture of kindness. Enabling God to command their souls to heaven more expeditiously. It seems only right. Of course the press will enjoy it too, I imagine."

"You’re bluffing," Olivetti said, the cool back in his voice. "You cannot kill a man in a church and expect to get away with it."

"Bluffing? We move among your Swiss Guard like ghosts, remove four of your cardinals from within your walls, plant a deadly explosive at the heart of your most sacred shrine, and you think this is a bluff? As the killings occur and the victims are found, the media will swarm. By midnight the world will know the Illuminati cause."

"And if we stake guards in every church?" Olivetti said.

The caller laughed. "I fear the prolific nature of your religion will make that a trying task. Have you not counted lately? There are over four hundred Catholic churches in Rome. Cathedrals, chapels, tabernacles, abbeys, monasteries, convents, parochial schools…"

Olivetti’s face remained hard.

"In ninety minutes it begins," the caller said with a note of finality. "One an hour. A mathematical progression of death. Now I must go."

"Wait!" Langdon demanded. "Tell me about the brands you intend to use on these men."

The killer sounded amused. "I suspect you know what the brands will be already. Or perhaps you are a skeptic? You will see them soon enough. Proof the ancient legends are true."

Langdon felt light‑headed. He knew exactly what the man was claiming. Langdon pictured the brand on Leonardo Vetra’s chest. Illuminati folklore spoke of five brands in all. Four brands are left, Langdon thought, and four missing cardinals.

"I am sworn," the camerlegno said, "to bring a new Pope tonight. Sworn by God."

"Camerlegno," the caller said, "the world does not need a new Pope. After midnight he will have nothing to rule over but a pile of rubble. The Catholic Church is finished. Your run on earth is done."

Silence hung.

The camerlegno looked sincerely sad. "You are misguided. A church is more than mortar and stone. You cannot simply erase two thousand years of faith… any faith. You cannot crush faith simply by removing its earthly manifestations. The Catholic Church will continue with or without Vatican City."

"A noble lie. But a lie all the same. We both know the truth. Tell me, why is Vatican City a walled citadel?"

"Men of God live in a dangerous world," the camerlegno said.

"How young are you? The Vatican is a fortress because the Catholic Church holds half of its equity inside its walls–rare paintings, sculpture, devalued jewels, priceless books… then there is the gold bullion and the real estate deeds inside the Vatican Bank vaults. Inside estimates put the raw value of Vatican City at 48.5 billion dollars. Quite a nest egg you’re sitting on. Tomorrow it will be ash. Liquidated assets as it were. You will be bankrupt. Not even men of cloth can work for nothing."

The accuracy of the statement seemed to be reflected in Olivetti’s and the camerlegno’s shell‑shocked looks. Langdon wasn’t sure what was more amazing, that the Catholic Church had that kind of money, or that the Illuminati somehow knew about it.

The camerlegno sighed heavily. "Faith, not money, is the backbone of this church."

"More lies," the caller said. "Last year you spent 183 million dollars trying to support your struggling dioceses worldwide. Church attendance is at an all‑time low–down forty‑six percent in the last decade. Donations are half what they were only seven years ago. Fewer and fewer men are entering the seminary. Although you will not admit it, your church is dying. Consider this a chance to go out with a bang."

Olivetti stepped forward. He seemed less combative now, as if he now sensed the reality facing him. He looked like a man searching for an out. Any out. "And what if some of that bullion went to fund your cause?"

"Do not insult us both."

"We have money."

"As do we. More than you can fathom."

Langdon flashed on the alleged Illuminati fortunes, the ancient wealth of the Bavarian stone masons, the Rothschilds, the Bilderbergers, the legendary Illuminati Diamond.

"I preferiti," the camerlegno said, changing the subject. His voice was pleading. "Spare them. They are old. They–"

"They are virgin sacrifices." The caller laughed. "Tell me, do you think they are really virgins? Will the little lambs squeal when they die? Sacrifici vergini nell’ altare di scienza."

The camerlegno was silent for a long time. "They are men of faith," he finally said. "They do not fear death."

The caller sneered. "Leonardo Vetra was a man of faith, and yet I saw fear in his eyes last night. A fear I removed."

Vittoria, who had been silent, was suddenly airborne, her body taut with hatred. "Asino! He was my father!"

A cackle echoed from the speaker. "Your father? What is this? Vetra has a daughter? You should know your father whimpered like a child at the end. Pitiful really. A pathetic man."

Vittoria reeled as if knocked backward by the words. Langdon reached for her, but she regained her balance and fixed her dark eyes on the phone. "I swear on my life, before this night is over, I will find you." Her voice sharpened like a laser. "And when I do…"

The caller laughed coarsely. "A woman of spirit. I am aroused. Perhaps before this night is over, I will find you. And when I do…"

The words hung like a blade. Then he was gone.

 

 

 

Cardinal Mor


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1020


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