42

Cardinal Mortati was sweating now in his black robe. Not only was the Sistine Chapel starting to feel like a sauna, but conclave was scheduled to begin in twenty minutes, and there was still no word on the four missing cardinals. In their absence, the initial whispers of confusion among the other cardinals had turned to outspoken anxiety.

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Mortati could not imagine where the truant men could be. With the camerlegno perhaps? He knew the camerlegno had held the traditional private tea for the four preferiti earlier that afternoon, but that had been hours ago. Were they ill? Something they ate? Mortati doubted it. Even on the verge of death the preferiti would be here. It was once in a lifetime, usually never, that a cardinal had the chance to be elected Supreme Pontiff, and by Vatican Law the cardinal had to be inside the Sistine Chapel when the vote took place. Otherwise, he was ineligible.

Although there were four preferiti, few cardinals had any doubt who the next Pope would be. The past fifteen days had seen a blizzard of faxes and phone calls discussing potential candidates. As was the custom, four names had been chosen as preferiti, each of them fulfilling the unspoken requisites for becoming Pope:

Multilingual in Italian, Spanish, and English.

No skeletons in his closet.

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Between sixty-five and eighty years old.

As usual, one of the preferiti had risen above the others as the man the college proposed to elect. Tonight that man was Cardinal Aldo Baggia from Milan. Baggia's untainted record of service, combined with unparalleled language skills and the ability to communicate the essence of spirituality, had made him the clear favorite.

So where the devil is he? Mortati wondered.

Mortati was particularly unnerved by the missing cardinals because the task of supervising this conclave had fallen to him. A week ago, the College of Cardinals had unanimously chosen Mortati for the office known as The Great Elector - the conclave's internal master of ceremonies. Even though the camerlegno was the church's ranking official, the camerlegno was only a priest and had little familiarity with the complex election process, so one cardinal was selected to oversee the ceremony from within the Sistine Chapel.

Cardinals often joked that being appointed The Great Elector was the cruelest honor in Christendom. The appointment made one ineligible as a candidate during the election, and it also required one spend many days prior to conclave poring over the pages of the Universi Dominici Gregis reviewing the subtleties of conclave's arcane rituals to ensure the election was properly administered.

Mortati held no grudge, though. He knew he was the logical choice. Not only was he the senior cardinal, but he had also been a confidant of the late Pope, a fact that elevated his esteem. Although Mortati was technically still within the legal age window for election, he was getting a bit old to be a serious candidate. At seventy-nine years old he had crossed the unspoken threshold beyond which the college no longer trusted one's health to withstand the rigorous schedule of the papacy. A Pope usually worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week, and died of exhaustion in an average of 6.3 years. The inside joke was that accepting the papacy was a cardinal's "fastest route to heaven."

Mortati, many believed, could have been Pope in his younger days had he not been so broad-minded. When it came to pursuing the papacy, there was a Holy Trinity - Conservative. Conservative. Conservative.

Mortati had always found it pleasantly ironic that the late Pope, God rest his soul, had revealed himself as surprisingly liberal once he had taken office. Perhaps sensing the modern world progressing away from the church, the Pope had made overtures, softening the church's position on the sciences, even donating money to selective scientific causes. Sadly, it had been political suicide. Conservative Catholics declared the Pope "senile," while scientific purists accused him of trying to spread the church's influence where it did not belong.

"So where are they?"

Mortati turned.

One of the cardinals was tapping him nervously on the shoulder. "You know where they are, don't you?"

Mortati tried not to show too much concern. "Perhaps still with the camerlegno."

"At this hour? That would be highly unorthodox!" The cardinal frowned mistrustingly. "Perhaps the camerlegno lost track of time?"

Mortati sincerely doubted it, but he said nothing. He was well aware that most cardinals did not much care for the camerlegno, feeling he was too young to serve the Pope so closely. Mortati suspected much of the cardinals' dislike was jealousy, and Mortati actually admired the young man, secretly applauding the late Pope's selection for chamberlain. Mortati saw only conviction when he looked in the camerlegno's eyes, and unlike many of the cardinals, the camerlegno put church and faith before petty politics. He was truly a man of God.

Throughout his tenure, the camerlegno's steadfast devotion had become legendary. Many attributed it to the miraculous event in his childhood... an event that would have left a permanent impression on any man's heart. The miracle and wonder of it, Mortati thought, often wishing his own childhood had presented an event that fostered that kind of doubtless faith.

Unfortunately for the church, Mortati knew, the camerlegno would never become Pope in his elder years. Attaining the papacy required a certain amount of political ambition, something the young camerlegno apparently lacked; he had refused his Pope's offers for higher clerical stations many times, saying he preferred to serve the church as a simple man.

"What next?" The cardinal tapped Mortati, waiting.

Mortati looked up. "I'm sorry?"

"They're late! What shall we do?"

"What can we do?" Mortati replied. "We wait. And have faith."

Looking entirely unsatisfied with Mortati's response, the cardinal shrunk back into the shadows.

Mortati stood a moment, dabbing his temples and trying to clear his mind. Indeed, what shall we do? He gazed past the altar up to Michelangelo's renowned fresco, "The Last Judgment." The painting did nothing to soothe his anxiety. It was a horrifying, fifty-foot-tall depiction of Jesus Christ separating mankind into the righteous and sinners, casting the sinners into hell. There was flayed flesh, burning bodies, and even one of Michelangelo's rivals sitting in hell wearing ass's ears. Guy de Maupassant had once written that the painting looked like something painted for a carnival wrestling booth by an ignorant coal heaver.

Cardinal Mortati had to agree.

43

Langdon stood motionless at the Pope's bulletproof window and gazed down at the bustle of media trailers in St. Peter's Square. The eerie phone conversation had left him feeling turgid... distended somehow. Not himself.

The Illuminati, like a serpent from the forgotten depths of history, had risen and wrapped themselves around an ancient foe. No demands. No negotiation. Just retribution. Demonically simple. Squeezing. A revenge 400 years in the making. It seemed that after centuries of persecution, science had bitten back.

The camerlegno stood at his desk, staring blankly at the phone. Olivetti was the first to break the silence. "Carlo," he said, using the camerlegno's first name and sounding more like a weary friend than an officer. "For twenty-six years, I have sworn my life to the protection of this office. It seems tonight I am dishonored."

The camerlegno shook his head. "You and I serve God in different capacities, but service always brings honor."

"These events... I can't imagine how... this situation..." Olivetti looked overwhelmed.

"You realize we have only one possible course of action. I have a responsibility for the safety of the College of Cardinals."

"I fear that responsibility was mine, signore."

"Then your men will oversee the immediate evacuation."

"Signore?"

"Other options can be exercised later - a search for this device, a manhunt for the missing cardinals and their captors. But first the cardinals must be taken to safety. The sanctity of human life weighs above all. Those men are the foundation of this church."

"You suggest we cancel conclave right now?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"What about your charge to bring a new Pope?"

The young chamberlain sighed and turned to the window, his eyes drifting out onto the sprawl of Rome below. "His Holiness once told me that a Pope is a man torn between two worlds... the real world and the divine. He warned that any church that ignored reality would not survive to enjoy the divine." His voice sounded suddenly wise for its years. "The real world is upon us tonight. We would be vain to ignore it. Pride and precedent cannot overshadow reason."

Olivetti nodded, looking impressed. "I have underestimated you, signore."

The camerlegno did not seem to hear. His gaze was distant on the window.

"I will speak openly, signore. The real world is my world. I immerse myself in its ugliness every day such that others are unencumbered to seek something more pure. Let me advise you on the present situation. It is what I am trained for. Your instincts, though worthy... could be disastrous."

The camerlegno turned.

Olivetti sighed. "The evacuation of the College of Cardinals from the Sistine Chapel is the worst possible thing you could do right now."

The camerlegno did not look indignant, only at a loss. "What do you suggest?"

"Say nothing to the cardinals. Seal conclave. It will buy us time to try other options."

The camerlegno looked troubled. "Are you suggesting I lock the entire College of Cardinals on top of a time bomb?"

"Yes, signore. For now. Later, if need be, we can arrange evacuation."

The camerlegno shook his head. "Postponing the ceremony before it starts is grounds alone for an inquiry, but after the doors are sealed nothing intervenes. Conclave procedure obligates - "

"Real world, signore. You're in it tonight. Listen closely." Olivetti spoke now with the efficient rattle of a field officer. "Marching one hundred sixty-five cardinals unprepared and unprotected into Rome would be reckless. It would cause confusion and panic in some very old men, and frankly, one fatal stroke this month is enough."

One fatal stroke. The commander's words recalled the headlines Langdon had read over dinner with some students in the Harvard Commons:

Pope suffers stroke.

Dies in sleep.

"In addition," Olivetti said, "the Sistine Chapel is a fortress. Although we don't advertise the fact, the structure is heavily reinforced and can repel any attack short of missiles. As preparation we searched every inch of the chapel this afternoon, scanning for bugs and other surveillance equipment. The chapel is clean, a safe haven, and I am confident the antimatter is not inside. There is no safer place those men can be right now. We can always discuss emergency evacuation later if it comes to that."

Langdon was impressed. Olivetti's cold, smart logic reminded him of Kohler.

"Commander," Vittoria said, her voice tense, "there are other concerns. Nobody has ever created this much antimatter. The blast radius, I can only estimate. Some of surrounding Rome may be in danger. If the canister is in one of your central buildings or underground, the effect outside these walls may be minimal, but if the canister is near the perimeter... in this building for example..." She glanced warily out the window at the crowd in St. Peter's Square.

"I am well aware of my responsibilities to the outside world," Olivetti replied, "and it makes this situation no more grave. The protection of this sanctuary has been my sole charge for over two decades. I have no intention of allowing this weapon to detonate."

Camerlegno Ventresca looked up. "You think you can find it?"

"Let me discuss our options with some of my surveillance specialists. There is a possibility, if we kill power to Vatican City, that we can eliminate the background RF and create a clean enough environment to get a reading on that canister's magnetic field."

Vittoria looked surprised, and then impressed. "You want to black out Vatican City?"

"Possibly. I don't yet know if it's possible, but it is one option I want to explore."

"The cardinals would certainly wonder what happened," Vittoria remarked.

Olivetti shook his head. "Conclaves are held by candlelight. The cardinals would never know. After conclave is sealed, I could pull all except a few of my perimeter guards and begin a search. A hundred men could cover a lot of ground in five hours."

"Four hours," Vittoria corrected. "I need to fly the canister back to CERN. Detonation is unavoidable without recharging the batteries."

"There's no way to recharge here?"

Vittoria shook her head. "The interface is complex. I'd have brought it if I could."

"Four hours then," Olivetti said, frowning. "Still time enough. Panic serves no one. Signore, you have ten minutes. Go to the chapel, seal conclave. Give my men some time to do their job. As we get closer to the critical hour, we will make the critical decisions."

Langdon wondered how close to "the critical hour" Olivetti would let things get.

The camerlegno looked troubled. "But the college will ask about the preferiti... especially about Baggia... where they are."

"Then you will have to think of something, signore. Tell them you served the four cardinals something at tea that disagreed with them."

The camerlegno looked riled. "Stand on the altar of the Sistine Chapel and lie to the College of Cardinals?"

"For their own safety. Una bugia veniale. A white lie. Your job will be to keep the peace." Olivetti headed for the door. "Now if you will excuse me, I need to get started."

"Comandante," the camerlegno urged, "we cannot simply turn our backs on missing cardinals."

Olivetti stopped in the doorway. "Baggia and the others are currently outside our sphere of influence. We must let them go... for the good of the whole. The military calls it triage."

"Don't you mean abandonment?"

His voice hardened. "If there were any way, signore... any way in heaven to locate those four cardinals, I would lay down my life to do it. And yet..." He pointed across the room at the window where the early evening sun glinted off an endless sea of Roman rooftops. "Searching a city of five million is not within my power. I will not waste precious time to appease my conscience in a futile exercise. I'm sorry."

Vittoria spoke suddenly. "But if we caught the killer, couldn't you make him talk?"

Olivetti frowned at her. "Soldiers cannot afford to be saints, Ms. Vetra. Believe me, I empathize with your personal incentive to catch this man."

"It's not only personal," she said. "The killer knows where the antimatter is... and the missing cardinals. If we could somehow find him..."

"Play into their hands?" Olivetti said. "Believe me, removing all protection from Vatican City in order to stake out hundreds of churches is what the Illuminati hope we will do... wasting precious time and manpower when we should be searching... or worse yet, leaving the Vatican Bank totally unprotected. Not to mention the remaining cardinals."

The point hit home.

"How about the Roman Police?" the camerlegno asked. "We could alert citywide enforcement of the crisis. Enlist their help in finding the cardinals' captor."

"Another mistake," Olivetti said. "You know how the Roman Carbonieri feel about us. We'd get a half-hearted effort of a few men in exchange for their selling our crisis to the global media. Exactly what our enemies want. We'll have to deal with the media soon enough as it is."

I will make your cardinals media luminaries, Langdon thought, recalling the killer's words. The first cardinal's body appears at eight o'clock. Then one every hour. The press will love it.

The camerlegno was talking again, a trace of anger in his voice. "Commander, we cannot in good conscience do nothing about the missing cardinals!"

Olivetti looked the camerlegno dead in the eye. "The prayer of St. Francis, signore. Do you recall it?"

The young priest spoke the single line with pain in his voice. "God, grant me strength to accept those things I cannot change."

"Trust me," Olivetti said. "This is one of those things." Then he was gone.

44

The central office of the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) is in London just west of Piccadilly Circus. The switchboard phone rang, and a junior content editor picked up.

"BBC," she said, stubbing out her Dunhill cigarette.

The voice on the line was raspy, with a Mid-East accent. "I have a breaking story your network might be interested in."

The editor took out a pen and a standard Lead Sheet. "Regarding?"

"The papal election."

She frowned wearily. The BBC had run a preliminary story yesterday to mediocre response. The public, it seemed, had little interest in Vatican City. "What's the angle?"

"Do you have a TV reporter in Rome covering the election?"

"I believe so."

"I need to speak to him directly."

"I'm sorry, but I cannot give you that number without some idea - "

"There is a threat to the conclave. That is all I can tell you."

The editor took notes. "Your name?"

"My name is immaterial."

The editor was not surprised. "And you have proof of this claim?"

"I do."

"I would be happy to take the information, but it is not our policy to give out our reporters' numbers unless - "

"I understand. I will call another network. Thank you for your time. Good-b - "

"Just a moment," she said. "Can you hold?"

The editor put the caller on hold and stretched her neck. The art of screening out potential crank calls was by no means a perfect science, but this caller had just passed the BBC's two tacit tests for authenticity of a phone source. He had refused to give his name, and he was eager to get off the phone. Hacks and glory hounds usually whined and pleaded.

Fortunately for her, reporters lived in eternal fear of missing the big story, so they seldom chastised her for passing along the occasional delusional psychotic. Wasting five minutes of a reporter's time was forgivable. Missing a headline was not.

Yawning, she looked at her computer and typed in the keywords "Vatican City." When she saw the name of the field reporter covering the papal election, she chuckled to herself. He was a new guy the BBC had just brought up from some trashy London tabloid to handle some of the BBC's more mundane coverage. Editorial had obviously started him at the bottom rung.

He was probably bored out of his mind, waiting all night to record his live ten-second video spot. He would most likely be grateful for a break in the monotony.

The BBC content editor copied down the reporter's satellite extension in Vatican City. Then, lighting another cigarette, she gave the anonymous caller the reporter's number.

45

"It won't work," Vittoria said, pacing the Pope's office. She looked up at the camerlegno. "Even if a Swiss Guard team can filter electronic interference, they will have to be practically on top of the canister before they detect any signal. And that's if the canister is even accessible... unenclosed by other barriers. What if it's buried in a metal box somewhere on your grounds? Or up in a metal ventilating duct. There's no way they'll trace it. And what if the Swiss Guards have been infiltrated? Who's to say the search will be clean?"

The camerlegno looked drained. "What are you proposing, Ms. Vetra?"

Vittoria felt flustered. Isn't it obvious? "I am proposing, sir, that you take other precautions immediately. We can hope against all hope that the commander's search is successful. At the same time, look out the window. Do you see those people? Those buildings across the piazza? Those media vans? The tourists? They are quite possibly within range of the blast. You need to act now."

The camerlegno nodded vacantly.

Vittoria felt frustrated. Olivetti had convinced everyone there was plenty of time. But Vittoria knew if news of the Vatican predicament leaked out, the entire area could fill with onlookers in a matter of minutes. She had seen it once outside the Swiss Parliament building. During a hostage situation involving a bomb, thousands had congregated outside the building to witness the outcome. Despite police warnings that they were in danger, the crowd packed in closer and closer. Nothing captured human interest like human tragedy.

"Signore," Vittoria urged, "the man who killed my father is out there somewhere. Every cell in this body wants to run from here and hunt him down. But I am standing in your office... because I have a responsibility to you. To you and others. Lives are in danger, signore. Do you hear me?"

The camerlegno did not answer.

Vittoria could hear her own heart racing. Why couldn't the Swiss Guard trace that damn caller? The Illuminati assassin is the key! He knows where the antimatter is... hell, he knows where the cardinals are! Catch the killer, and everything is solved.

Vittoria sensed she was starting to come unhinged, an alien distress she recalled only faintly from childhood, the orphanage years, frustration with no tools to handle it. You have tools, she told herself, you always have tools. But it was no use. Her thoughts intruded, strangling her. She was a researcher and problem solver. But this was a problem with no solution. What data do you require? What do you want? She told herself to breathe deeply, but for the first time in her life, she could not. She was suffocating.

Langdon's head ached, and he felt like he was skirting the edges of rationality. He watched Vittoria and the camerlegno, but his vision was blurred by hideous images: explosions, press swarming, cameras rolling, four branded humans.

Shaitan... Lucifer... Bringer of light... Satan...

He shook the fiendish images from his mind. Calculated terrorism, he reminded himself, grasping at reality. Planned chaos. He thought back to a Radcliffe seminar he had once audited while researching praetorian symbolism. He had never seen terrorists the same way since.

"Terrorism," the professor had lectured, "has a singular goal. What is it?"

"Killing innocent people?" a student ventured.

"Incorrect. Death is only a byproduct of terrorism."

"A show of strength?"

"No. A weaker persuasion does not exist."

"To cause terror?"

"Concisely put. Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear. Fear undermines faith in the establishment. It weakens the enemy from within... causing unrest in the masses. Write this down. Terrorism is not an expression of rage. Terrorism is a political weapon. Remove a government's façade of infallibility, and you remove its people's faith."

Loss of faith...

Is that what this was all about? Langdon wondered how Christians of the world would react to cardinals being laid out like mutilated dogs. If the faith of a canonized priest did not protect him from the evils of Satan, what hope was there for the rest of us? Langdon's head was pounding louder now... tiny voices playing tug of war.

Faith does not protect you. Medicine and airbags... those are things that protect you. God does not protect you. Intelligence protects you. Enlightenment. Put your faith in something with tangible results. How long has it been since someone walked on water? Modern miracles belong to science... computers, vaccines, space stations... even the divine miracle of creation. Matter from nothing... in a lab. Who needs God? No! Science is God.

The killer's voice resonated in Langdon's mind. Midnight... mathematical progression of death... sacrifici vergini nell' altare di scienza."

Then suddenly, like a crowd dispersed by a single gunshot, the voices were gone.

Robert Langdon bolted to his feet. His chair fell backward and crashed on the marble floor.

Vittoria and the camerlegno jumped.

"I missed it," Langdon whispered, spellbound. "It was right in front of me..."

"Missed what?" Vittoria demanded.

Langdon turned to the priest. "Father, for three years I have petitioned this office for access to the Vatican Archives. I have been denied seven times."

"Mr. Langdon, I am sorry, but this hardly seems the moment to raise such complaints."

"I need access immediately. The four missing cardinals. I may be able to figure out where they're going to be killed."

Vittoria stared, looking certain she had misunderstood.

The camerlegno looked troubled, as if he were the brunt of a cruel joke. "You expect me to believe this information is in our archives?"

"I can't promise I can locate it in time, but if you let me in..."

"Mr. Langdon, I am due in the Sistine Chapel in four minutes. The archives are across Vatican City."

"You're serious aren't you?" Vittoria interrupted, staring deep into Langdon's eyes, seeming to sense his earnestness.

"Hardly a joking time," Langdon said.

"Father," Vittoria said, turning to the camerlegno, "if there's a chance... any at all of finding where these killings are going to happen, we could stake out the locations and - "

"But the archives?" the camerlegno insisted. "How could they possibly contain any clue?"

"Explaining it," Langdon said, "will take longer than you've got. But if I'm right, we can use the information to catch the Hassassin."

The camerlegno looked as though he wanted to believe but somehow could not. "Christianity's most sacred codices are in that archive. Treasures I myself am not privileged enough to see."

"I am aware of that."

"Access is permitted only by written decree of the curator and the Board of Vatican Librarians."

"Or," Langdon declared, "by papal mandate. It says so in every rejection letter your curator ever sent me."

The camerlegno nodded.

"Not to be rude," Langdon urged, "but if I'm not mistaken a papal mandate comes from this office. As far as I can tell, tonight you hold the trust of his station. Considering the circumstances..."

The camerlegno pulled a pocket watch from his cassock and looked at it. "Mr. Langdon, I am prepared to give my life tonight, quite literally, to save this church."

Langdon sensed nothing but truth in the man's eyes.

"This document," the camerlegno said, "do you truly believe it is here? And that it can help us locate these four churches?"

"I would not have made countless solicitations for access if I were not convinced. Italy is a bit far to come on a lark when you make a teacher's salary. The document you have is an ancient - "

"Please," the camerlegno interrupted. "Forgive me. My mind cannot process any more details at the moment. Do you know where the secret archives are located?"

Langdon felt a rush of excitement. "Just behind the Santa Ana Gate."

"Impressive. Most scholars believe it is through the secret door behind St. Peter's Throne."

"No. That would be the Archivio della Reverenda di Fabbrica di S. Pietro. A common misconception."

"A librarian docent accompanies every entrant at all times. Tonight, the docents are gone. What you are requesting is carte blanche access. Not even our cardinals enter alone."

"I will treat your treasures with the utmost respect and care. Your librarians will find not a trace that I was there."

Overhead the bells of St. Peter's began to toll. The camerlegno checked his pocket watch. "I must go." He paused a taut moment and looked up at Langdon. "I will have a Swiss Guard meet you at the archives. I am giving you my trust, Mr. Langdon. Go now."

Langdon was speechless.

The young priest now seemed to possess an eerie poise. Reaching over, he squeezed Langdon's shoulder with surprising strength. "I want you to find what you are looking for. And find it quickly."

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