BBC reporter Gunther Glick stared at the cell phone in his hand for ten seconds before he finally hung up.
Chinita Macri studied him from the back of the van. "What happened? Who was that?"
Glick turned, feeling like a child who had just received a Christmas gift he feared was not really for him. "I just got a tip. Something's going on inside the Vatican."
"It's called conclave," Chinita said. "Helluva tip."
"No, something else." Something big. He wondered if the story the caller had just told him could possibly be true. Glick felt ashamed when he realized he was praying it was. "What if I told you four cardinals have been kidnapped and are going to be murdered at different churches tonight."
"I'd say you're being hazed by someone at the office with a sick sense of humor."
"What if I told you we were going to be given the exact location of the first murder?"
"I'd want to know who the hell you just talked to."
"He didn't say."
"Perhaps because he's full of shit?"
Glick had come to expect Macri's cynicism, but what she was forgetting was that liars and lunatics had been Glick's business for almost a decade at the British Tattler. This caller had been neither. This man had been coldly sane. Logical. I will call you just before eight, the man had said, and tell you where the first killing will occur. The images you record will make you famous. When Glick had demanded why the caller was giving him this information, the answer had been as icy as the man's Mideastern accent. The media is the right arm of anarchy.
"He told me something else too," Glick said.
"What? That Elvis Presley was just elected Pope?"
"Dial into the BBC database, will you?" Glick's adrenaline was pumping now. "I want to see what other stories we've run on these guys."
Macri sighed and pulled up the connection to the BBC database. "This'll take a minute."
Glick's mind was swimming. "The caller was very intent to know if I had a cameraman."
"And if we could transmit live."
"One point five three seven megahertz. What is this about?" The database beeped. "Okay, we're in. Who is it you're looking for?"
Glick gave her the keyword.
Macri turned and stared. "I sure as hell hope you're kidding."
The internal organization of Archival Vault 10 was not as intuitive as Langdon had hoped, and the Diagramma manuscript did not appear to be located with other similar Galilean publications. Without access to the computerized Biblion and a reference locator, Langdon and Vittoria were stuck.
"You're sure Diagramma is in here?" Vittoria asked.
"Positive. It's a confirmed listing in both the Uficcio della Propaganda delle Fede - "
"Fine. As long as you're sure." She headed left, while he went right.
Langdon began his manual search. He needed every bit of self-restraint not to stop and read every treasure he passed. The collection was staggering. The Assayer... The Starry Messenger... The Sunspot Letters... Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina... Apologia pro Galileo... On and on.
It was Vittoria who finally struck gold near the back of the vault. Her throaty voice called out, "Diagramma della Verita!"
Langdon dashed through the crimson haze to join her. "Where?"
Vittoria pointed, and Langdon immediately realized why they had not found it earlier. The manuscript was in a folio bin, not on the shelves. Folio bins were a common means of storing unbound pages. The label on the front of the container left no doubt about the contents.
Diagramma Della Verita
Galileo Galilei, 1639
Langdon dropped to his knees, his heart pounding. "Diagramma." He gave her a grin. "Nice work. Help me pull out this bin."
Vittoria knelt beside him, and they heaved. The metal tray on which the bin was sitting rolled toward them on castors, revealing the top of the container.
"No lock?" Vittoria said, sounding surprised at the simple latch.
"Never. Documents sometimes need to be evacuated quickly. Floods and fires."
"So open it."
Langdon didn't need any encouragement. With his academic life's dream right in front of him and the thinning air in the chamber, he was in no mood to dawdle. He unsnapped the latch and lifted the lid. Inside, flat on the floor of the bin, lay a black, duck-cloth pouch. The cloth's breathability was critical to the preservation of its contents. Reaching in with both hands and keeping the pouch horizontal, Langdon lifted it out of the bin.
"I expected a treasure chest," Vittoria said. "Looks more like a pillowcase."
"Follow me," he said. Holding the bag before him like a sacred offering, Langdon walked to the center of the vault where he found the customary glass-topped archival exam table. Although the central location was intended to minimize in-vault travel of documents, researchers appreciated the privacy the surrounding stacks afforded. Career-making discoveries were uncovered in the top vaults of the world, and most academics did not like rivals peering through the glass as they worked.
Langdon lay the pouch on the table and unbuttoned the opening. Vittoria stood by. Rummaging through a tray of archivist tools, Langdon found the felt-pad pincers archivists called finger cymbals - oversized tweezers with flattened disks on each arm. As his excitement mounted, Langdon feared at any moment he might awake back in Cambridge with a pile of test papers to grade. Inhaling deeply, he opened the bag. Fingers trembling in their cotton gloves, he reached in with his tongs.
"Relax," Vittoria said. "It's paper, not plutonium."
Langdon slid the tongs around the stack of documents inside and was careful to apply even pressure. Then, rather than pulling out the documents, he held them in place while he slid off the bag - an archivist's procedure for minimizing torque on the artifact. Not until the bag was removed and Langdon had turned on the exam darklight beneath the table did he begin breathing again.
Vittoria looked like a specter now, lit from below by the lamp beneath the glass. "Small sheets," she said, her voice reverent.
Langdon nodded. The stack of folios before them looked like loose pages from a small paperback novel. Langdon could see that the top sheet was an ornate pen and ink cover sheet with the title, the date, and Galileo's name in his own hand.
In that instant, Langdon forgot the cramped quarters, forgot his exhaustion, forgot the horrifying situation that had brought him here. He simply stared in wonder. Close encounters with history always left Langdon numbed with reverence... like seeing the brushstrokes on the Mona Lisa.
The muted, yellow papyrus left no doubt in Langdon's mind as to its age and authenticity, but excluding the inevitable fading, the document was in superb condition. Slight bleaching of the pigment. Minor sundering and cohesion of the papyrus. But all in all... in damn fine condition. He studied the ornate hand etching of the cover, his vision blurring in the lack of humidity. Vittoria was silent.
"Hand me a spatula, please." Langdon motioned beside Vittoria to a tray filled with stainless-steel archival tools. She handed it to him. Langdon took the tool in his hand. It was a good one. He ran his fingers across the face to remove any static charge and then, ever so carefully, slid the blade beneath the cover. Then, lifting the spatula, he turned over the cover sheet.
The first page was written in longhand, the tiny, stylized calligraphy almost impossible to read. Langdon immediately noticed that there were no diagrams or numbers on the page. It was an essay.
"Heliocentricity," Vittoria said, translating the heading on folio one. She scanned the text. "Looks like Galileo renouncing the geocentric model once and for all. Ancient Italian, though, so no promises on the translation."
"Forget it," Langdon said. "We're looking for math. The pure language." He used the spatula tool to flip the next page. Another essay. No math or diagrams. Langdon's hands began to sweat inside his gloves.
"Movement of the Planets," Vittoria said, translating the title.
Langdon frowned. On any other day, he would have been fascinated to read it; incredibly NASA's current model of planetary orbits, observed through high-powered telescopes, was supposedly almost identical to Galileo's original predictions.
"No math," Vittoria said. "He's talking about retrograde motions and elliptical orbits or something."
Elliptical orbits. Langdon recalled that much of Galileo's legal trouble had begun when he described planetary motion as elliptical. The Vatican exalted the perfection of the circle and insisted heavenly motion must be only circular. Galileo's Illuminati, however, saw perfection in the ellipse as well, revering the mathematical duality of its twin foci. The Illuminati's ellipse was prominent even today in modern Masonic tracing boards and footing inlays.
"Next," Vittoria said.
"Lunar phases and tidal motion," she said. "No numbers. No diagrams."
Langdon flipped again. Nothing. He kept flipping through a dozen or so pages. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
"I thought this guy was a mathematician," Vittoria said. "This is all text."
Langdon felt the air in his lungs beginning to thin. His hopes were thinning too. The pile was waning.
"Nothing here," Vittoria said. "No math. A few dates, a few standard figures, but nothing that looks like it could be a clue."
Langdon flipped over the last folio and sighed. It, too, was an essay.
"Short book," Vittoria said, frowning.
"Merda, as we say in Rome."
Shit is right, Langdon thought. His reflection in the glass seemed mocking, like the image staring back at him this morning from his bay window. An aging ghost. "There's got to be something," he said, the hoarse desperation in his voice surprising him. "The segno is here somewhere. I know it!"
"Maybe you were wrong about DIII?"
Langdon turned and stared at her.
"Okay," she agreed, "DIII makes perfect sense. But maybe the clue isn't mathematical?"
"Lingua pura. What else would it be?"
"Except there are no diagrams or pictures in the book."
"All I know is that lingua pura refers to something other than Italian. Math just seems logical."
Langdon refused to accept defeat so quickly. "The numbers must be written longhand. The math must be in words rather than equations."
"It'll take some time to read all the pages."
"Time's something we don't have. We'll have to split the work." Langdon flipped the stack back over to the beginning. "I know enough Italian to spot numbers." Using his spatula, he cut the stack like a deck of cards and lay the first half-dozen pages in front of Vittoria. "It's in here somewhere. I'm sure."
Vittoria reached down and flipped her first page by hand.
"Spatula!" Langdon said, grabbing her an extra tool from the tray. "Use the spatula."
"I'm wearing gloves," she grumbled. "How much damage could I cause?"
"Just use it."
Vittoria picked up the spatula. "You feeling what I'm feeling?"
"No. Short of breath."
Langdon was definitely starting to feel it too. The air was thinning faster than he had imagined. He knew they had to hurry. Archival conundrums were nothing new for him, but usually he had more than a few minutes to work them out. Without another word, Langdon bowed his head and began translating the first page in his stack.
Show yourself, damn it! Show yourself!
Somewhere beneath Rome the dark figure prowled down a stone ramp into the underground tunnel. The ancient passageway was lit only by torches, making the air hot and thick. Up ahead the frightened voices of grown men called out in vain, echoing in the cramped spaces.
As he rounded the corner he saw them, exactly as he had left them - four old men, terrified, sealed behind rusted iron bars in a stone cubicle.
"Qui etes-vous?" one of the men demanded in French. "What do you want with us?"
"Hilfe!" another said in German. "Let us go!"
"Are you aware who we are?" one asked in English, his accent Spanish.
"Silence," the raspy voice commanded. There was a finality about the word.
The fourth prisoner, an Italian, quiet and thoughtful, looked into the inky void of his captor's eyes and swore he saw hell itself. God help us, he thought.
The killer checked his watch and then returned his gaze to the prisoners. "Now then," he said. "Who will be first?"
Inside Archive Vault 10 Robert Langdon recited Italian numbers as he scanned the calligraphy before him. Mille... centi... uno, duo, tre... cincuanta. I need a numerical reference! Anything, damnit!
When he reached the end of his current folio, he lifted the spatula to flip the page. As he aligned the blade with the next page, he fumbled, having difficulty holding the tool steady. Minutes later, he looked down and realized he had abandoned his spatula and was turning pages by hand. Oops, he thought, feeling vaguely criminal. The lack of oxygen was affecting his inhibitions. Looks like I'll burn in archivist's hell.
"About damn time," Vittoria choked when she saw Langdon turning pages by hand. She dropped her spatula and followed suit.
Vittoria shook her head. "Nothing that looks purely mathematical. I'm skimming... but none of this reads like a clue."
Langdon continued translating his folios with increasing difficulty. His Italian skills were rocky at best, and the tiny penmanship and archaic language was making it slow going. Vittoria reached the end of her stack before Langdon and looked disheartened as she flipped the pages back over. She hunkered down for another more intense inspection.
When Langdon finished his final page, he cursed under his breath and looked over at Vittoria. She was scowling, squinting at something on one of her folios. "What is it?" he asked.
Vittoria did not look up. "Did you have any footnotes on your pages?"
"Not that I noticed. Why?"
"This page has a footnote. It's obscured in a crease."
Langdon tried to see what she was looking at, but all he could make out was the page number in the upper right-hand corner of the sheet. Folio 5. It took a moment for the coincidence to register, and even when it did the connection seemed vague. Folio Five. Five, Pythagoras, pentagrams, Illuminati. Langdon wondered if the Illuminati would have chosen page five on which to hide their clue. Through the reddish fog surrounding them, Langdon sensed a tiny ray of hope. "Is the footnote mathematical?"
Vittoria shook her head. "Text. One line. Very small printing. Almost illegible."
His hopes faded. "It's supposed to be math. Lingua pura."
"Yeah, I know." She hesitated. "I think you'll want to hear this, though." Langdon sensed excitement in her voice.
Squinting at the folio, Vittoria read the line. "The path of light is laid, the sacred test."
The words were nothing like what Langdon had imagined. "I'm sorry?"
Vittoria repeated the line. "The path of light is laid, the sacred test."
"Path of light?" Langdon felt his posture straightening.
"That's what it says. Path of light."
As the words sank in, Langdon felt his delirium pierced by an instant of clarity. The path of light is laid, the sacred test. He had no idea how it helped them, but the line was as direct a reference to the Path of Illumination as he could imagine. Path of light. Sacred test. His head felt like an engine revving on bad fuel. "Are you sure of the translation?"
Vittoria hesitated. "Actually..." She glanced over at him with a strange look. "It's not technically a translation. The line is written in English."
For an instant, Langdon thought the acoustics in the chamber had affected his hearing. "English?"
Vittoria pushed the document over to him, and Langdon read the minuscule printing at the bottom of the page. "The path of light is laid, the sacred test. English? What is English doing in an Italian book?"
Vittoria shrugged. She too was looking tipsy. "Maybe English is what they meant by the lingua pura? It's considered the international language of science. It's all we speak at CERN."
"But this was in the 1600s," Langdon argued. "Nobody spoke English in Italy, not even - " He stopped short, realizing what he was about to say. "Not even... the clergy." Langdon's academic mind hummed in high gear. "In the 1600s," he said, talking faster now, "English was one language the Vatican had not yet embraced. They dealt in Italian, Latin, German, even Spanish and French, but English was totally foreign inside the Vatican. They considered English a polluted, free-thinkers language for profane men like Chaucer and Shakespeare." Langdon flashed suddenly on the Illuminati brands of Earth, Air, Fire, Water. The legend that the brands were in English now made a bizarre kind of sense.
"So you're saying maybe Galileo considered English la lingua pura because it was the one language the Vatican did not control?"
"Yes. Or maybe by putting the clue in English, Galileo was subtly restricting the readership away from the Vatican."
"But it's not even a clue," Vittoria argued. "The path of light is laid, the sacred test? What the hell does that mean?"
She's right, Langdon thought. The line didn't help in any way. But as he spoke the phrase again in his mind, a strange fact hit him. Now that's odd, he thought. What are the chances of that?
"We need to get out of here," Vittoria said, sounding hoarse.
Langdon wasn't listening. The path of light is laid, the sacred test. "It's a damn line of iambic pentameter," he said suddenly, counting the syllables again. "Five couplets of alternating stressed and unstressed syllables."
Vittoria looked lost. "Iambic who?"
For an instant Langdon was back at Phillips Exeter Academy sitting in a Saturday morning English class. Hell on earth. The school baseball star, Peter Greer, was having trouble remembering the number of couplets necessary for a line of Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Their professor, an animated schoolmaster named Bissell, leapt onto the table and bellowed, "Penta-meter, Greer! Think of home plate! A penta-gon! Five sides! Penta! Penta! Penta! Jeeeesh!"
Five couplets, Langdon thought. Each couplet, by definition, having two syllables. He could not believe in his entire career he had never made the connection. Iambic pentameter was a symmetrical meter based on the sacred Illuminati numbers of 5 and 2!
You're reaching! Langdon told himself, trying to push it from his mind. A meaningless coincidence! But the thought stuck. Five... for Pythagoras and the pentagram. Two... for the duality of all things.
A moment later, another realization sent a numbing sensation down his legs. Iambic pentameter, on account of its simplicity, was often called "pure verse" or "pure meter." La lingua pura? Could this have been the pure language the Illuminati had been referring to? The path of light is laid, the sacred test...
"Uh oh," Vittoria said.
Langdon wheeled to see her rotating the folio upside down. He felt a knot in his gut. Not again. "There's no way that line is an ambigram!"
"No, it's not an ambigram... but it's..." She kept turning the document, 90 degrees at every turn.
Vittoria looked up. "It's not the only line."
"There's a different line on every margin. Top, bottom, left, and right. I think it's a poem."
"Four lines?" Langdon bristled with excitement. Galileo was a poet? "Let me see!"
Vittoria did not relinquish the page. She kept turning the page in quarter turns. "I didn't see the lines before because they're on the edges." She cocked her head over the last line. "Huh. You know what? Galileo didn't even write this."
"The poem is signed John Milton."
"John Milton?" The influential English poet who wrote Paradise Lost was a contemporary of Galileo's and a savant who conspiracy buffs put at the top of their list of Illuminati suspects. Milton's alleged affiliation with Galileo's Illuminati was one legend Langdon suspected was true. Not only had Milton made a well-documented 1638 pilgrimage to Rome to "commune with enlightened men," but he had held meetings with Galileo during the scientist's house arrest, meetings portrayed in many Renaissance paintings, including Annibale Gatti's famous Galileo and Milton, which hung even now in the IMSS Museum in Florence.
"Milton knew Galileo, didn't he?" Vittoria said, finally pushing the folio over to Langdon. "Maybe he wrote the poem as a favor?"
Langdon clenched his teeth as he took the sheathed document. Leaving it flat on the table, he read the line at the top. Then he rotated the page 90 degrees, reading the line in the right margin. Another twist, and he read the bottom. Another twist, the left. A final twist completed the circle. There were four lines in all. The first line Vittoria had found was actually the third line of the poem. Utterly agape, he read the four lines again, clockwise in sequence: top, right, bottom, left. When he was done, he exhaled. There was no doubt in his mind. "You found it, Ms. Vetra."
She smiled tightly. "Good, now can we get the hell out of here?"
"I have to copy these lines down. I need to find a pencil and paper."
Vittoria shook her head. "Forget it, professor. No time to play scribe. Mickey's ticking." She took the page from him and headed for the door.
Langdon stood up. "You can't take that outside! It's a - "
But Vittoria was already gone.