36

The Office of the Swiss Guard.

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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."

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"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 museo?" 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. "ee 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.

"Idi��ta!" 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.

37

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.

38

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?

"Citta 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."

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