Langdon stared in bewilderment at the study before him. "What is this place?" Despite the welcome blast of warm air on his face, he stepped through the door with trepidation.
Kohler said nothing as he followed Langdon inside.
Langdon scanned the room, not having the slightest idea what to make of it. It contained the most peculiar mix of artifacts he had ever seen. On the far wall, dominating the decor, was an enormous wooden crucifix, which Langdon placed as fourteenth-century Spanish. Above the cruciform, suspended from the ceiling, was a metallic mobile of the orbiting planets. To the left was an oil painting of the Virgin Mary, and beside that was a laminated periodic table of elements. On the side wall, two additional brass cruciforms flanked a poster of Albert Einstein, his famous quote reading:
God Does Not Play Dice With the Universe
Langdon moved into the room, looking around in astonishment. A leather-bound Bible sat on Vetra's desk beside a plastic Bohr model of an atom and a miniature replica of Michelangelo's Moses.
Talk about eclectic, Langdon thought. The warmth felt good, but something about the decor sent a new set of chills through his body. He felt like he was witnessing the clash of two philosophical titans... an unsettling blur of opposing forces. He scanned the titles on the bookshelf:
The God Particle
The Tao of Physics
God: The Evidence
One of the bookends was etched with a quote:
True science discovers God waiting behind every door.
Pope Pius XII
"Leonardo was a Catholic priest," Kohler said.
Langdon turned. "A priest? I thought you said he was a physicist."
"He was both. Men of science and religion are not unprecedented in history. Leonardo was one of them. He considered physics 'God's natural law.' He claimed God's handwriting was visible in the natural order all around us. Through science he hoped to prove God's existence to the doubting masses. He considered himself a theo-physicist."
Theo-physicist? Langdon thought it sounded impossibly oxymoronic.
"The field of particle physics," Kohler said, "has made some shocking discoveries lately - discoveries quite spiritual in implication. Leonardo was responsible for many of them."
Langdon studied CERN's director, still trying to process the bizarre surroundings. "Spirituality and physics?" Langdon had spent his career studying religious history, and if there was one recurring theme, it was that science and religion had been oil and water since day one... archenemies... unmixable.
"Vetra was on the cutting edge of particle physics," Kohler said. "He was starting to fuse science and religion... showing that they complement each other in most unanticipated ways. He called the field New Physics." Kohler pulled a book from the shelf and handed it to Langdon.
Langdon studied the cover. God, Miracles, and the New Physics - by Leonardo Vetra.
"The field is small," Kohler said, "but it's bringing fresh answers to some old questions - questions about the origin of the universe and the forces that bind us all. Leonardo believed his research had the potential to convert millions to a more spiritual life. Last year he categorically proved the existence of an energy force that unites us all. He actually demonstrated that we are all physically connected... that the molecules in your body are intertwined with the molecules in mine... that there is a single force moving within all of us."
Langdon felt disconcerted. And the power of God shall unite us all. "Mr. Vetra actually found a way to demonstrate that particles are connected?"
"Conclusive evidence. A recent Scientific American article hailed New Physics as a surer path to God than religion itself."
The comment hit home. Langdon suddenly found himself thinking of the antireligious Illuminati. Reluctantly, he forced himself to permit a momentary intellectual foray into the impossible. If the Illuminati were indeed still active, would they have killed Leonardo to stop him from bringing his religious message to the masses? Langdon shook off the thought. Absurd! The Illuminati are ancient history! All academics know that!
"Vetra had plenty of enemies in the scientific world," Kohler went on. "Many scientific purists despised him. Even here at CERN. They felt that using analytical physics to support religious principles was a treason against science."
"But aren't scientists today a bit less defensive about the church?"
Kohler grunted in disgust. "Why should we be? The church may not be burning scientists at the stake anymore, but if you think they've released their reign over science, ask yourself why half the schools in your country are not allowed to teach evolution. Ask yourself why the U.S. Christian Coalition is the most influential lobby against scientific progress in the world. The battle between science and religion is still raging, Mr. Langdon. It has moved from the battlefields to the boardrooms, but it is still raging."
Langdon realized Kohler was right. Just last week the Harvard School of Divinity had marched on the Biology Building, protesting the genetic engineering taking place in the graduate program. The chairman of the Bio Department, famed ornithologist Richard Aaronian, defended his curriculum by hanging a huge banner from his office window. The banner depicted the Christian "fish" modified with four little feet - a tribute, Aaronian claimed, to the African lungfishes' evolution onto dry land. Beneath the fish, instead of the word "Jesus," was the proclamation "Darwin!"
A sharp beeping sound cut the air, and Langdon looked up. Kohler reached down into the array of electronics on his wheelchair. He slipped a beeper out of its holder and read the incoming message.
"Good. That is Leonardo's daughter. Ms. Vetra is arriving at the helipad right now. We will meet her there. I think it best she not come up here and see her father this way."
Langdon agreed. It would be a shock no child deserved.
"I will ask Ms. Vetra to explain the project she and her father have been working on... perhaps shedding light on why he was murdered."
"You think Vetra's work is why he was killed?"
"Quite possibly. Leonardo told me he was working on something groundbreaking. That is all he said. He had become very secretive about the project. He had a private lab and demanded seclusion, which I gladly afforded him on account of his brilliance. His work had been consuming huge amounts of electric power lately, but I refrained from questioning him." Kohler rotated toward the study door. "There is, however, one more thing you need to know before we leave this flat."
Langdon was not sure he wanted to hear it.
"An item was stolen from Vetra by his murderer."
The director propelled his wheelchair back into the fog-filled living room. Langdon followed, not knowing what to expect. Kohler maneuvered to within inches of Vetra's body and stopped. He ushered Langdon to join him. Reluctantly, Langdon came close, bile rising in his throat at the smell of the victim's frozen urine.
"Look at his face," Kohler said.
Look at his face? Langdon frowned. I thought you said something was stolen.
Hesitantly, Langdon knelt down. He tried to see Vetra's face, but the head was twisted 180 degrees backward, his face pressed into the carpet.
Struggling against his handicap Kohler reached down and carefully twisted Vetra's frozen head. Cracking loudly, the corpse's face rotated into view, contorted in agony. Kohler held it there a moment.
"Sweet Jesus!" Langdon cried, stumbling back in horror. Vetra's face was covered in blood. A single hazel eye stared lifelessly back at him. The other socket was tattered and empty. "They stole his eye?"
Langdon stepped out of Building C into the open air, grateful to be outside Vetra's flat. The sun helped dissolve the image of the empty eye socket emblazoned into his mind.
"This way, please," Kohler said, veering up a steep path. The electric wheelchair seemed to accelerate effortlessly. "Ms. Vetra will be arriving any moment."
Langdon hurried to keep up.
"So," Kohler asked. "Do you still doubt the Illuminati's involvement?"
Langdon had no idea what to think anymore. Vetra's religious affiliations were definitely troubling, and yet Langdon could not bring himself to abandon every shred of academic evidence he had ever researched. Besides, there was the eye...
"I still maintain," Langdon said, more forcefully than he intended. "that the Illuminati are not responsible for this murder. The missing eye is proof."
"Random mutilation," Langdon explained, "is very... un - Illuminati. Cult specialists see desultory defacement from inexperienced fringe sects - zealots who commit random acts of terrorism - but the Illuminati have always been more deliberate."
"Deliberate? Surgically removing someone's eyeball is not deliberate?"
"It sends no clear message. It serves no higher purpose."
Kohler's wheelchair stopped short at the top of the hill. He turned. "Mr. Langdon, believe me, that missing eye does indeed serve a higher purpose... a much higher purpose."
As the two men crossed the grassy rise, the beating of helicopter blades became audible to the west. A chopper appeared, arching across the open valley toward them. It banked sharply, then slowed to a hover over a helipad painted on the grass.
Langdon watched, detached, his mind churning circles like the blades, wondering if a full night's sleep would make his current disorientation any clearer. Somehow, he doubted it.
As the skids touched down, a pilot jumped out and started unloading gear. There was a lot of it - duffels, vinyl wet bags, scuba tanks, and crates of what appeared to be high-tech diving equipment.
Langdon was confused. "Is that Ms. Vetra's gear?" he yelled to Kohler over the roar of the engines.
Kohler nodded and yelled back, "She was doing biological research in the Balearic Sea."
"I thought you said she was a physicist!"
"She is. She's a Bio Entanglement Physicist. She studies the interconnectivity of life systems. Her work ties closely with her father's work in particle physics. Recently she disproved one of Einstein's fundamental theories by using atomically synchronized cameras to observe a school of tuna fish."
Langdon searched his host's face for any glint of humor. Einstein and tuna fish? He was starting to wonder if the X-33 space plane had mistakenly dropped him off on the wrong planet.
A moment later, Vittoria Vetra emerged from the fuselage. Robert Langdon realized today was going to be a day of endless surprises. Descending from the chopper in her khaki shorts and white sleeveless top, Vittoria Vetra looked nothing like the bookish physicist he had expected. Lithe and graceful, she was tall with chestnut skin and long black hair that swirled in the backwind of the rotors. Her face was unmistakably Italian - not overly beautiful, but possessing full, earthy features that even at twenty yards seemed to exude a raw sensuality. As the air currents buffeted her body, her clothes clung, accentuating her slender torso and small breasts.
"Ms. Vetra is a woman of tremendous personal strength," Kohler said, seeming to sense Langdon's captivation. "She spends months at a time working in dangerous ecological systems. She is a strict vegetarian and CERN's resident guru of Hatha yoga."
Hatha yoga? Langdon mused. The ancient Buddhist art of meditative stretching seemed an odd proficiency for the physicist daughter of a Catholic priest.
Langdon watched Vittoria approach. She had obviously been crying, her deep sable eyes filled with emotions Langdon could not place. Still, she moved toward them with fire and command. Her limbs were strong and toned, radiating the healthy luminescence of Mediterranean flesh that had enjoyed long hours in the sun.
"Vittoria," Kohler said as she approached. "My deepest condolences. It's a terrible loss for science... for all of us here at CERN."
Vittoria nodded gratefully. When she spoke, her voice was smooth - a throaty, accented English. "Do you know who is responsible yet?"
"We're still working on it."
She turned to Langdon, holding out a slender hand. "My name is Vittoria Vetra. You're from Interpol, I assume?"
Langdon took her hand, momentarily spellbound by the depth of her watery gaze. "Robert Langdon." He was unsure what else to say.
"Mr. Langdon is not with the authorities," Kohler explained. "He is a specialist from the U.S. He's here to help us locate who is responsible for this situation."
Vittoria looked uncertain. "And the police?"
Kohler exhaled but said nothing.
"Where is his body?" she demanded.
"Being attended to."
The white lie surprised Langdon.
"I want to see him," Vittoria said.
"Vittoria," Kohler urged, "your father was brutally murdered. You would be better to remember him as he was."
Vittoria began to speak but was interrupted.
"Hey, Vittoria!" voices called from the distance. "Welcome home!"
She turned. A group of scientists passing near the helipad waved happily.
"Disprove any more of Einstein's theories?" one shouted.
Another added, "Your dad must be proud!"
Vittoria gave the men an awkward wave as they passed. Then she turned to Kohler, her face now clouded with confusion. "Nobody knows yet?"
"I decided discretion was paramount."
"You haven't told the staff my father was murdered?" Her mystified tone was now laced with anger.
Kohler's tone hardened instantly. "Perhaps you forget, Ms. Vetra, as soon as I report your father's murder, there will be an investigation of CERN. Including a thorough examination of his lab. I have always tried to respect your father's privacy. Your father has told me only two things about your current project. One, that it has the potential to bring CERN millions of francs in licensing contracts in the next decade. And two, that it is not ready for public disclosure because it is still hazardous technology. Considering these two facts, I would prefer strangers not poke around inside his lab and either steal his work or kill themselves in the process and hold CERN liable. Do I make myself clear?"
Vittoria stared, saying nothing. Langdon sensed in her a reluctant respect and acceptance of Kohler's logic.
"Before we report anything to the authorities," Kohler said, "I need to know what you two were working on. I need you to take us to your lab."
"The lab is irrelevant," Vittoria said. "Nobody knew what my father and I were doing. The experiment could not possibly have anything to do with my father's murder."
Kohler exhaled a raspy, ailing breath. "Evidence suggests otherwise."
"Evidence? What evidence?"
Langdon was wondering the same thing.
Kohler was dabbing his mouth again. "You'll just have to trust me."
It was clear, from Vittoria's smoldering gaze, that she did not.
Langdon strode silently behind Vittoria and Kohler as they moved back into the main atrium where Langdon's bizarre visit had begun. Vittoria's legs drove in fluid efficiency - like an Olympic diver - a potency, Langdon figured, no doubt born from the flexibility and control of yoga. He could hear her breathing slowly and deliberately, as if somehow trying to filter her grief.
Langdon wanted to say something to her, offer his sympathy. He too had once felt the abrupt hollowness of unexpectedly losing a parent. He remembered the funeral mostly, rainy and gray. Two days after his twelfth birthday. The house was filled with gray-suited men from the office, men who squeezed his hand too hard when they shook it. They were all mumbling words like cardiac and stress. His mother joked through teary eyes that she'd always been able to follow the stock market simply by holding her husband's hand... his pulse her own private ticker tape.
Once, when his father was alive, Langdon had heard his mom begging his father to "stop and smell the roses." That year, Langdon bought his father a tiny blown-glass rose for Christmas. It was the most beautiful thing Langdon had ever seen... the way the sun caught it, throwing a rainbow of colors on the wall. "It's lovely," his father had said when he opened it, kissing Robert on the forehead. "Let's find a safe spot for it." Then his father had carefully placed the rose on a high dusty shelf in the darkest corner of the living room. A few days later, Langdon got a stool, retrieved the rose, and took it back to the store. His father never noticed it was gone.
The ping of an elevator pulled Langdon back to the present. Vittoria and Kohler were in front of him, boarding the lift. Langdon hesitated outside the open doors.
"Is something wrong?" Kohler asked, sounding more impatient than concerned.
"Not at all," Langdon said, forcing himself toward the cramped carriage. He only used elevators when absolutely necessary. He preferred the more open spaces of stairwells.
"Dr. Vetra's lab is subterranean," Kohler said.
Wonderful, Langdon thought as he stepped across the cleft, feeling an icy wind churn up from the depths of the shaft. The doors closed, and the car began to descend.
"Six stories," Kohler said blankly, like an analytical engine.
Langdon pictured the darkness of the empty shaft below them. He tried to block it out by staring at the numbered display of changing floors. Oddly, the elevator showed only two stops. Ground Level and LHC.
"What's LHC stand for?" Langdon asked, trying not to sound nervous.
"Large Hadron Collider," Kohler said. "A particle accelerator."
Particle accelerator? Langdon was vaguely familiar with the term. He had first heard it over dinner with some colleagues at Dunster House in Cambridge. A physicist friend of theirs, Bob Brownell, had arrived for dinner one night in a rage.
"The bastards canceled it!" Brownell cursed.
"Canceled what?" they all asked.
"The Superconducting Super Collider!"
Someone shrugged. "I didn't know Harvard was building one."
"Not Harvard!" he exclaimed. "The U.S.! It was going to be the world's most powerful particle accelerator! One of the most important scientific projects of the century! Two billion dollars into it and the Senate sacks the project! Damn Bible-Belt lobbyists!"
When Brownell finally calmed down, he explained that a particle accelerator was a large, circular tube through which subatomic particles were accelerated. Magnets in the tube turned on and off in rapid succession to "push" particles around and around until they reached tremendous velocities. Fully accelerated particles circled the tube at over 180,000 miles per second.
"But that's almost the speed of light," one of the professors exclaimed.
"Damn right," Brownell said. He went on to say that by accelerating two particles in opposite directions around the tube and then colliding them, scientists could shatter the particles into their constituent parts and get a glimpse of nature's most fundamental components. "Particle accelerators," Brownell declared, "are critical to the future of science. Colliding particles is the key to understanding the building blocks of the universe."
Harvard's Poet in Residence, a quiet man named Charles Pratt, did not look impressed. "It sounds to me," he said, "like a rather Neanderthal approach to science... akin to smashing clocks together to discern their internal workings."
Brownell dropped his fork and stormed out of the room.
So CERN has a particle accelerator? Langdon thought, as the elevator dropped. A circular tube for smashing particles. He wondered why they had buried it underground.
When the elevator thumped to a stop, Langdon was relieved to feel terra firma beneath his feet. But when the doors slid open, his relief evaporated. Robert Langdon found himself standing once again in a totally alien world.
The passageway stretched out indefinitely in both directions, left and right. It was a smooth cement tunnel, wide enough to allow passage of an eighteen wheeler. Brightly lit where they stood, the corridor turned pitch black farther down. A damp wind rustled out of the darkness - an unsettling reminder that they were now deep in the earth. Langdon could almost sense the weight of the dirt and stone now hanging above his head. For an instant he was nine years old... the darkness forcing him back... back to the five hours of crushing blackness that haunted him still. Clenching his fists, he fought it off.
Vittoria remained hushed as she exited the elevator and strode off without hesitation into the darkness without them. Overhead the flourescents flickered on to light her path. The effect was unsettling, Langdon thought, as if the tunnel were alive... anticipating her every move. Langdon and Kohler followed, trailing a distance behind. The lights extinguished automatically behind them.
"This particle accelerator," Langdon said quietly. "It's down this tunnel someplace?"
"That's it there." Kohler motioned to his left where a polished, chrome tube ran along the tunnel's inner wall.
Langdon eyed the tube, confused. "That's the accelerator?" The device looked nothing like he had imagined. It was perfectly straight, about three feet in diameter, and extended horizontally the visible length of the tunnel before disappearing into the darkness. Looks more like a high-tech sewer, Langdon thought. "I thought particle accelerators were circular."
"This accelerator is a circle," Kohler said. "It appears straight, but that is an optical illusion. The circumference of this tunnel is so large that the curve is imperceptible - like that of the earth."
Langdon was flabbergasted. This is a circle? "But... it must be enormous!"
"The LHC is the largest machine in the world."
Langdon did a double take. He remembered the CERN driver saying something about a huge machine buried in the earth. But -
"It is over eight kilometers in diameter... and twenty-seven kilometers long."
Langdon's head whipped around. "Twenty-seven kilometers?" He stared at the director and then turned and looked into the darkened tunnel before him. "This tunnel is twenty-seven kilometers long? That's... that's over sixteen miles!"
Kohler nodded. "Bored in a perfect circle. It extends all the way into France before curving back here to this spot. Fully accelerated particles will circle the tube more than ten thousand times in a single second before they collide."
Langdon's legs felt rubbery as he stared down the gaping tunnel. "You're telling me that CERN dug out millions of tons of earth just to smash tiny particles?"
Kohler shrugged. "Sometimes to find truth, one must move mountains."