"Seven-forty-six and thirty... mark." Even speaking into his walkie-talkie, Olivetti's voice never seemed to rise above a whisper.
Langdon felt himself sweating now in his Harris tweed in the backseat of the Alpha Romeo, which was idling in Piazza de la Concorde, three blocks from the Pantheon. Vittoria sat beside him, looking engrossed by Olivetti, who was transmitting his final orders.
"Deployment will be an eight-point hem," the commander said. "Full perimeter with a bias on the entry. Target may know you visually, so you will be pas-visible. Nonmortal force only. We'll need someone to spot the roof. Target is primary. Asset secondary."
Jesus, Langdon thought, chilled by the efficiency with which Olivetti had just told his men the cardinal was expendable. Asset secondary.
"I repeat. Nonmortal procurement. We need the target alive. Go." Olivetti snapped off his walkie-talkie.
Vittoria looked stunned, almost angry. "Commander, isn't anyone going inside?"
Olivetti turned. "Inside?"
"Inside the Pantheon! Where this is supposed to happen?"
"Attento," Olivetti said, his eyes fossilizing. "If my ranks have been infiltrated, my men may be known by sight. Your colleague has just finished warning me that this will be our sole chance to catch the target. I have no intention of scaring anyone off by marching my men inside."
"But what if the killer is already inside?"
Olivetti checked his watch. "The target was specific. Eight o'clock. We have fifteen minutes."
"He said he would kill the cardinal at eight o'clock. But he may already have gotten the victim inside somehow. What if your men see the target come out but don't know who he is? Someone needs to make sure the inside is clean."
"Too risky at this point."
"Not if the person going in was unrecognizable."
"Disguising operatives is time consuming and - "
"I meant me," Vittoria said.
Langdon turned and stared at her.
Olivetti shook his head. "Absolutely not."
"He killed my father."
"Exactly, so he may know who you are."
"You heard him on the phone. He had no idea Leonardo Vetra even had a daughter. He sure as hell doesn't know what I look like. I could walk in like a tourist. If I see anything suspicious, I could walk into the square and signal your men to move in."
"I'm sorry, I cannot allow that."
"Comandante?" Olivetti's receiver crackled. "We've got a situation from the north point. The fountain is blocking our line of sight. We can't see the entrance unless we move into plain view on the piazza. What's your call? Do you want us blind or vulnerable?"
Vittoria apparently had endured enough. "That's it. I'm going." She opened her door and got out.
Olivetti dropped his walkie-talkie and jumped out of the car, circling in front of Vittoria.
Langdon got out too. What the hell is she doing!
Olivetti blocked Vittoria's way. "Ms. Vetra, your instincts are good, but I cannot let a civilian interfere."
"Interfere? You're flying blind. Let me help."
"I would love to have a recon point inside, but..."
"But what?" Vittoria demanded. "But I'm a woman?"
Olivetti said nothing.
"That had better not be what you were going to say, Commander, because you know damn well this is a good idea, and if you let some archaic macho bullshit - "
"Let us do our job."
"Let me help."
"Too dangerous. We would have no lines of communication with you. I can't let you carry a walkie-talkie, it would give you away."
Vittoria reached in her shirt pocket and produced her cell phone. "Plenty of tourists carry phones."
Vittoria unsnapped the phone and mimicked a call. "Hi, honey, I'm standing in the Pantheon. You should see this place!" She snapped the phone shut and glared at Olivetti. "Who the hell is going to know? It is a no-risk situation. Let me be your eyes!" She motioned to the cell phone on Olivetti's belt. "What's your number?"
Olivetti did not reply.
The driver had been looking on and seemed to have some thoughts of his own. He got out of the car and took the commander aside. They spoke in hushed tones for ten seconds. Finally Olivetti nodded and returned. "Program this number." He began dictating digits.
Vittoria programmed her phone.
"Now call the number."
Vittoria pressed the auto dial. The phone on Olivetti's belt began ringing. He picked it up and spoke into the receiver. "Go into the building, Ms. Vetra, look around, exit the building, then call and tell me what you see."
Vittoria snapped the phone shut. "Thank you, sir."
Langdon felt a sudden, unexpected surge of protective instinct. "Wait a minute," he said to Olivetti. "You're sending her in there alone."
Vittoria scowled at him. "Robert, I'll be fine."
The Swiss Guard driver was talking to Olivetti again.
"It's dangerous," Langdon said to Vittoria.
"He's right," Olivetti said. "Even my best men don't work alone. My lieutenant has just pointed out that the masquerade will be more convincing with both of you anyway."
Both of us? Langdon hesitated. Actually, what I meant -
"Both of you entering together," Olivetti said, "will look like a couple on holiday. You can also back each other up. I'm more comfortable with that."
Vittoria shrugged. "Fine, but we'll need to go fast."
Langdon groaned. Nice move, cowboy.
Olivetti pointed down the street. "First street you hit will be Via degli Orfani. Go left. It takes you directly to the Pantheon. Two-minute walk, tops. I'll be here, directing my men and waiting for your call. I'd like you to have protection." He pulled out his pistol. "Do either of you know how to use a gun?"
Langdon's heart skipped. We don't need a gun!
Vittoria held her hand out. "I can tag a breaching porpoise from forty meters off the bow of a rocking ship."
"Good." Olivetti handed the gun to her. "You'll have to conceal it."
Vittoria glanced down at her shorts. Then she looked at Langdon.
Oh no you don't! Langdon thought, but Vittoria was too fast. She opened his jacket, and inserted the weapon into one of his breast pockets. It felt like a rock dropping into his coat, his only consolation being that Diagramma was in the other pocket.
"We look harmless," Vittoria said. "We're leaving." She took Langdon's arm and headed down the street.
The driver called out, "Arm in arm is good. Remember, you're tourists. Newlyweds even. Perhaps if you held hands?"
As they turned the corner Langdon could have sworn he saw on Vittoria's face the hint of a smile.
The Swiss Guard "staging room" is located adjacent to the Corpo di Vigilanza barracks and is used primarily for planning the security surrounding papal appearances and public Vatican events. Today, however, it was being used for something else.
The man addressing the assembled task force was the second-in-command of the Swiss Guard, Captain Elias Rocher. Rocher was a barrel-chested man with soft, puttylike features. He wore the traditional blue captain's uniform with his own personal flair - a red beret cocked sideways on his head. His voice was surprisingly crystalline for such a large man, and when he spoke, his tone had the clarity of a musical instrument. Despite the precision of his inflection, Rocher's eyes were cloudy like those of some nocturnal mammal. His men called him "orso" - grizzly bear. They sometimes joked that Rocher was "the bear who walked in the viper's shadow." Commander Olivetti was the viper. Rocher was just as deadly as the viper, but at least you could see him coming.
Rocher's men stood at sharp attention, nobody moving a muscle, although the information they had just received had increased their aggregate blood pressure by a few thousand points.
Rookie Lieutenant Chartrand stood in the back of the room wishing he had been among the 99 percent of applicants who had not qualified to be here. At twenty years old, Chartrand was the youngest guard on the force. He had been in Vatican City only three months. Like every man there, Chartrand was Swiss Army trained and had endured two years of additional ausbilding in Bern before qualifying for the grueling Vatican pr��va held in a secret barracks outside of Rome. Nothing in his training, however, had prepared him for a crisis like this.
At first Chartrand thought the briefing was some sort of bizarre training exercise. Futuristic weapons? Ancient cults? Kidnapped cardinals? Then Rocher had shown them the live video feed of the weapon in question. Apparently this was no exercise.
"We will be killing power in selected areas," Rocher was saying, "to eradicate extraneous magnetic interference. We will move in teams of four. We will wear infrared goggles for vision. Reconnaissance will be done with traditional bug sweepers, recalibrated for sub-three-ohm flux fields. Any questions?"
Chartrand's mind was on overload. "What if we don't find it in time?" he asked, immediately wishing he had not.
The grizzly bear gazed out at him from beneath his red beret. Then he dismissed the group with a somber salute. "Godspeed, men."
Two blocks from the Pantheon, Langdon and Vittoria approached on foot past a line of taxis, their drivers sleeping in the front seats. Nap time was eternal in the Eternal City - the ubiquitous public dozing a perfected extension of the afternoon siestas born of ancient Spain.
Langdon fought to focus his thoughts, but the situation was too bizarre to grasp rationally. Six hours ago he had been sound asleep in Cambridge. Now he was in Europe, caught up in a surreal battle of ancient titans, packing a semiautomatic in his Harris tweed, and holding hands with a woman he had only just met.
He looked at Vittoria. She was focused straight ahead. There was a strength in her grasp - that of an independent and determined woman. Her fingers wrapped around his with the comfort of innate acceptance. No hesitation. Langdon felt a growing attraction. Get real, he told himself.
Vittoria seemed to sense his uneasiness. "Relax," she said, without turning her head. "We're supposed to look like newlyweds."
"You're crushing my hand."
Langdon flushed and loosened up.
"Breathe through your eyes," she said.
"It relaxes the muscles. It's called pranayama."
"Not the fish. Pranayama. Never mind."
As they rounded the corner into Piazza della Rotunda, the Pantheon rose before them. Langdon admired it, as always, with awe. The Pantheon. Temple to all gods. Pagan gods. Gods of Nature and Earth. The structure seemed boxier from the outside than he remembered. The vertical pillars and triangular pronaus all but obscured the circular dome behind it. Still, the bold and immodest inscription over the entrance assured him they were in the right spot. M AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIUM FECIT. Langdon translated it, as always, with amusement. Marcus Agrippa, Consul for the third time, built this.
So much for humility, he thought, turning his eyes to the surrounding area. A scattering of tourists with video cameras wandered the area. Others sat enjoying Rome's best iced coffee at La Tazza di Oro's outdoor cafe. Outside the entrance to the Pantheon, four armed Roman policemen stood at attention just as Olivetti had predicted.
"Looks pretty quiet," Vittoria said.
Langdon nodded, but he felt troubled. Now that he was standing here in person, the whole scenario seemed surreal. Despite Vittoria's apparent faith that he was right, Langdon realized he had put everyone on the line here. The Illuminati poem lingered. From Santi's earthly tomb with demon's hole. YES, he told himself. This was the spot. Santi's tomb. He had been here many times beneath the Pantheon's oculus and stood before the grave of the great Raphael.
"What time is it?" Vittoria asked.
Langdon checked his watch. "Seven-fifty. Ten minutes till show time."
"Hope these guys are good," Vittoria said, eyeing the scattered tourists entering the Pantheon. "If anything happens inside that dome, we'll all be in the crossfire."
Langdon exhaled heavily as they moved toward the entrance. The gun felt heavy in his pocket. He wondered what would happen if the policemen frisked him and found the weapon, but the officers did not give them a second look. Apparently the disguise was convincing.
Langdon whispered to Vittoria. "Ever fire anything other than a tranquilizer gun?"
"Don't you trust me?"
"Trust you? I barely know you."
Vittoria frowned. "And here I thought we were newlyweds."
The air inside the Pantheon was cool and damp, heavy with history. The sprawling ceiling hovered overhead as though weightless - the 141-foot unsupported span larger even than the cupola at St. Peter's. As always, Langdon felt a chill as he entered the cavernous room. It was a remarkable fusion of engineering and art. Above them the famous circular hole in the roof glowed with a narrow shaft of evening sun. The oculus, Langdon thought. The demon's hole.
They had arrived.
Langdon's eyes traced the arch of the ceiling sloping outward to the columned walls and finally down to the polished marble floor beneath their feet. The faint echo of footfalls and tourist murmurs reverberated around the dome. Langdon scanned the dozen or so tourists wandering aimlessly in the shadows. Are you here?
"Looks pretty quiet," Vittoria said, still holding his hand.
"Where's Raphael's tomb?"
Langdon thought for a moment, trying to get his bearings. He surveyed the circumference of the room. Tombs. Altars. Pillars. Niches. He motioned to a particularly ornate funerary across the dome and to the left. "I think that's Raphael's over there."
Vittoria scanned the rest of the room. "I don't see anyone who looks like an assassin about to kill a cardinal. Shall we look around?"
Langdon nodded. "There's only one spot in here where anyone could be hiding. We better check the rientranze."
"Yes." Langdon pointed. "The recesses in the wall."
Around the perimeter, interspersed with the tombs, a series of semicircular niches were hewn in the wall. The niches, although not enormous, were big enough to hide someone in the shadows. Sadly, Langdon knew they once contained statues of the Olympian gods, but the pagan sculptures had been destroyed when the Vatican converted the Pantheon to a Christian church. He felt a pang of frustration to know he was standing at the first altar of science, and the marker was gone. He wondered which statue it had been, and where it had pointed. Langdon could imagine no greater thrill than finding an Illuminati marker - a statue that surreptitiously pointed the way down the Path of Illumination. Again he wondered who the anonymous Illuminati sculptor had been.
"I'll take the left arc," Vittoria said, indicating the left half of the circumference. "You go right. See you in a hundred and eighty degrees."
Langdon smiled grimly.
As Vittoria moved off, Langdon felt the eerie horror of the situation seeping back into his mind. As he turned and made his way to the right, the killer's voice seemed to whisper in the dead space around him. Eight o'clock. Virgin sacrifices on the altars of science. A mathematical progression of death. Eight, nine, ten, eleven... and at midnight. Langdon checked his watch: 7:52. Eight minutes.
As Langdon moved toward the first recess, he passed the tomb of one of Italy's Catholic kings. The sarcophagus, like many in Rome, was askew with the wall, positioned awkwardly. A group of visitors seemed confused by this. Langdon did not stop to explain. Formal Christian tombs were often misaligned with the architecture so they could lie facing east. It was an ancient superstition that Langdon's Symbology 212 class had discussed just last month.
"That's totally incongruous!" a female student in the front had blurted when Langdon explained the reason for east-facing tombs. "Why would Christians want their tombs to face the rising sun? We're talking about Christianity... not sun worship!"
Langdon smiled, pacing before the blackboard, chewing an apple. "Mr. Hitzrot!" he shouted.
A young man dozing in back sat up with a start. "What! Me?"
Langdon pointed to a Renaissance art poster on the wall. "Who is that man kneeling before God?"
"Um... some saint?"
"Brilliant. And how do you know he's a saint?"
"He's got a halo?"
"Excellent, and does that golden halo remind you of anything?"
Hitzrot broke into a smile. "Yeah! Those Egyptian things we studied last term. Those... um... sun disks!"
"Thank you, Hitzrot. Go back to sleep." Langdon turned back to the class. "Halos, like much of Christian symbology, were borrowed from the ancient Egyptian religion of sun worship. Christianity is filled with examples of sun worship."
"Excuse me?" the girl in front said. "I go to church all the time, and I don't see much sun worshiping going on!"
"Really? What do you celebrate on December twenty-fifth?"
"Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ."
"And yet according to the Bible, Christ was born in March, so what are we doing celebrating in late December?"
Langdon smiled. "December twenty-fifth, my friends, is the ancient pagan holiday of sol invictus - Unconquered Sun - coinciding with the winter solstice. It's that wonderful time of year when the sun returns, and the days start getting longer."
Langdon took another bite of apple.
"Conquering religions," he continued, "often adopt existing holidays to make conversion less shocking. It's called transmutation. It helps people acclimatize to the new faith. Worshipers keep the same holy dates, pray in the same sacred locations, use a similar symbology... and they simply substitute a different god."
Now the girl in front looked furious. "You're implying Christianity is just some kind of... repackaged sun worship!"
"Not at all. Christianity did not borrow only from sun worship. The ritual of Christian canonization is taken from the ancient 'god-making' rite of Euhemerus. The practice of 'god-eating' - that is, Holy Communion - was borrowed from the Aztecs. Even the concept of Christ dying for our sins is arguably not exclusively Christian; the self-sacrifice of a young man to absolve the sins of his people appears in the earliest tradition of the Quetzalcoatl."
The girl glared. "So, is anything in Christianity original?"
"Very little in any organized faith is truly original. Religions are not born from scratch. They grow from one another. Modern religion is a collage... an assimilated historical record of man's quest to understand the divine."
"Um... hold on," Hitzrot ventured, sounding awake now. "I know something Christian that's original. How about our image of God? Christian art never portrays God as the hawk sun god, or as an Aztec, or as anything weird. It always shows God as an old man with a white beard. So our image of God is original, right?"
Langdon smiled. "When the early Christian converts abandoned their former deities - pagan gods, Roman gods, Greek, sun, Mithraic, whatever - they asked the church what their new Christian God looked like. Wisely, the church chose the most feared, powerful... and familiar face in all of recorded history."
Hitzrot looked skeptical. "An old man with a white, flowing beard?"
Langdon pointed to a hierarchy of ancient gods on the wall. At the top sat an old man with a white, flowing beard. "Does Zeus look familiar?"
The class ended right on cue.
"Good evening," a man's voice said.
Langdon jumped. He was back in the Pantheon. He turned to face an elderly man in a blue cape with a red cross on the chest. The man gave him a gray-toothed smile.
"You're English, right?" The man's accent was thick Tuscan.
Langdon blinked, confused. "Actually, no. I'm American."
The man looked embarrassed. "Oh heavens, forgive me. You were so nicely dressed, I just figured... my apologies."
"Can I help you?" Langdon asked, his heart beating wildly.
"Actually I thought perhaps I could help you. I am the cicerone here." The man pointed proudly to his city-issued badge. "It is my job to make your visit to Rome more interesting."
More interesting? Langdon was certain this particular visit to Rome was plenty interesting.
"You look like a man of distinction," the guide fawned, "no doubt more interested in culture than most. Perhaps I can give you some history on this fascinating building."
Langdon smiled politely. "Kind of you, but I'm actually an art historian myself, and - "
"Superb!" The man's eyes lit up like he'd hit the jackpot. "Then you will no doubt find this delightful!"
"I think I'd prefer to - "
"The Pantheon," the man declared, launching into his memorized spiel, "was built by Marcus Agrippa in 27 B.C."
"Yes," Langdon interjected, "and rebuilt by Hadrian in 119 A.D."
"It was the world's largest free-standing dome until 1960 when it was eclipsed by the Superdome in New Orleans!"
Langdon groaned. The man was unstoppable.
"And a fifth-century theologian once called the Pantheon the House of the Devil, warning that the hole in the roof was an entrance for demons!"
Langdon blocked him out. His eyes climbed skyward to the oculus, and the memory of Vittoria's suggested plot flashed a bone-numbing image in his mind... a branded cardinal falling through the hole and hitting the marble floor. Now that would be a media event. Langdon found himself scanning the Pantheon for reporters. None. He inhaled deeply. It was an absurd idea. The logistics of pulling off a stunt like that would be ridiculous.
As Langdon moved off to continue his inspection, the babbling docent followed like a love-starved puppy. Remind me, Langdon thought to himself, there's nothing worse than a gung ho art historian.
Across the room, Vittoria was immersed in her own search. Standing all alone for the first time since she had heard the news of her father, she felt the stark reality of the last eight hours closing in around her. Her father had been murdered - cruelly and abruptly. Almost equally painful was that her father's creation had been corrupted - now a tool of terrorists. Vittoria was plagued with guilt to think that it was her invention that had enabled the antimatter to be transported... her canister that was now counting down inside the Vatican. In an effort to serve her father's quest for the simplicity of truth... she had become a conspirator of chaos.
Oddly, the only thing that felt right in her life at the moment was the presence of a total stranger. Robert Langdon. She found an inexplicable refuge in his eyes... like the harmony of the oceans she had left behind early that morning. She was glad he was there. Not only had he been a source of strength and hope for her, Langdon had used his quick mind to render this one chance to catch her father's killer.
Vittoria breathed deeply as she continued her search, moving around the perimeter. She was overwhelmed by the unexpected images of personal revenge that had dominated her thoughts all day. Even as a sworn lover of all life... she wanted this executioner dead. No amount of good karma could make her turn the other cheek today. Alarmed and electrified, she sensed something coursing through her Italian blood that she had never felt before... the whispers of Sicilian ancestors defending family honor with brutal justice. Vendetta, Vittoria thought, and for the first time in her life understood.
Visions of reprisal spurred her on. She approached the tomb of Raphael Santi. Even from a distance she could tell this guy was special. His casket, unlike the others, was protected by a Plexiglas shield and recessed into the wall. Through the barrier she could see the front of the sarcophagus.
Vittoria studied the grave and then read the one-sentence descriptive plaque beside Raphael's tomb.
Then she read it again.
Then... she read it again.
A moment later, she was dashing in horror across the floor. "Robert! Robert!"