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Basilica San Pietro
They accelerated up the manicured road past a squat building marked Radio Vaticana. This, Langdon realized to his amazement, was the hub of the world’s most listened-to radio programming—Radio Vaticana–spreading the word of God to millions of listeners around the globe.
“Attenzione,” the pilot said, turning sharply into a rotary.
As the cart wound round, Langdon could barely believe the sight now coming into view. Giardini Vaticani, he thought. The heart of Vatican City. Directly ahead rose the rear of St. Peter’s Basilica, a view, Langdon realized, most people never saw. To the right loomed the Palace of the Tribunal, the lush papal residence rivaled only by Versailles in its baroque embellishment. The severe-looking Governatorato building was now behind them, housing Vatican City’s administration. And up ahead on the left, the massive rectangular edifice of the Vatican Museum. Langdon knew there would be no time for a museum visit this trip.
“Where is everyone?” Vittoria asked, surveying the deserted lawns and walkways.
The guard checked his black, military-style chronograph—an odd anachronism beneath his puffy sleeve. “The cardinals are convened in the Sistine Chapel. Conclave begins in a little under an hour.”
Langdon nodded, vaguely recalling that before conclave the cardinals spent two hours inside the Sistine Chapel in quiet reflection and visitations with their fellow cardinals from around the globe. The time was meant to renew old friendships among the cardinals and facilitate a less heated election process. “And the rest of the residents and staff?”
“Banned from the city for secrecy and security until the conclave concludes.”
“And when does it conclude?”
The guard shrugged. “God only knows.” The words sounded oddly literal.
After parking the cart on the wide lawn directly behind St. Peter’s Basilica, the guard escorted Langdon and Vittoria up a stone escarpment to a marble plaza off the back of the basilica. Crossing the plaza, they approached the rear wall of the basilica and followed it through a triangular courtyard, across Via Belvedere, and into a series of buildings closely huddled together. Langdon’s art history had taught him enough Italian to pick out signs for the Vatican Printing Office, the Tapestry Restoration Lab, Post Office Management, and the Church of St. Ann. They crossed another small square and arrived at their destination.
The Office of the Swiss Guard is housed adjacent to Il Corpo di Vigilanza, directly northeast of St. Peter’s Basilica. The office is a squat, stone building. On either side of the entrance, like two stone statues, stood a pair of guards.
Langdon had to admit, these guards did not look quite so comical. Although they also wore the blue and gold uniform, each wielded the traditional “Vatican long sword”—an eight-foot spear with a razor-sharp scythe—rumored to have decapitated countless Muslims while defending the Christian crusaders in the fifteenth century.
As Langdon and Vittoria approached, the two guards stepped forward, crossing their long swords, blocking the entrance. One looked up at the pilot in confusion. “I pantaloni,” he said, motioning to Vittoria’s shorts.
The pilot waved them off. “Il comandante vuole vederli subito.”
The guards frowned. Reluctantly they stepped aside.
Inside, the air was cool. It looked nothing like the administrative security offices Langdon would have imagined. Ornate and impeccably furnished, the hallways contained paintings Langdon was certain any museum worldwide would gladly have featured in its main gallery.
The pilot pointed down a steep set of stairs. “Down, please.”
Langdon and Vittoria followed the white marble treads as they descended between a gauntlet of nude male sculptures. Each statue wore a fig leaf that was lighter in color than the rest of the body.
The Great Castration, Langdon thought.
It was one of the most horrific tragedies in Renaissance art. In 1857, Pope Pius IX decided that the accurate representation of the male form might incite lust inside the Vatican. So he got a chisel and mallet and hacked off the genitalia of every single male statue inside Vatican City. He defaced works by Michelangelo, Bramante, and Bernini. Plaster fig leaves were used to patch the damage. Hundreds of sculptures had been emasculated. Langdon had often wondered if there was a huge crate of stone penises someplace.
“Here,” the guard announced.
They reached the bottom of the stairs and dead-ended at a heavy, steel door. The guard typed an entry code, and the door slid open. Langdon and Vittoria entered.
Beyond the threshold was absolute mayhem.
The Office of the Swiss Guard.
Langdon stood in the doorway, surveying the collision of centuries before them. Mixed media. The room was a lushly adorned Renaissance library complete with inlaid bookshelves, oriental carpets, and colorful tapestries… and yet the room bristled with high-tech gear—banks of computers, faxes, electronic maps of the Vatican complex, and televisions tuned to CNN. Men in colorful pantaloons typed feverishly on computers and listened intently in futuristic headphones.
“Wait here,” the guard said.
Langdon and Vittoria waited as the guard crossed the room to an exceptionally tall, wiry man in a dark blue military uniform. He was talking on a cellular phone and stood so straight he was almost bent backward. The guard said something to him, and the man shot a glance over at Langdon and Vittoria. He nodded, then turned his back on them and continued his phone call.
The guard returned. “Commander Olivetti will be with you in a moment.”
The guard left and headed back up the stairs.
Langdon studied Commander Olivetti across the room, realizing he was actually the Commander in Chief of the armed forces of an entire country. Vittoria and Langdon waited, observing the action before them. Brightly dressed guards bustled about yelling orders in Italian.
“Continua cercando!” one yelled into a telephone.
“Probasti il musèo?” another asked.
Langdon did not need fluent Italian to discern that the security center was currently in intense search mode. This was the good news. The bad news was that they obviously had not yet found the antimatter.
“You okay?” Langdon asked Vittoria.
She shrugged, offering a tired smile.
When the commander finally clicked off his phone and approached across the room, he seemed to grow with each step. Langdon was tall himself and not accustomed to looking up at many people, but Commander Olivetti demanded it. Langdon sensed immediately that the commander was a man who had weathered tempests, his face hale and steeled. His dark hair was cropped in a military buzz cut, and his eyes burned with the kind of hardened determination only attainable through years of intense training. He moved with ramrod exactness, the earpiece hidden discreetly behind one ear making him look more like U.S. Secret Service than Swiss Guard.
The commander addressed them in accented English. His voice was startlingly quiet for such a large man, barely a whisper. It bit with a tight, military efficiency. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I am Commander Olivetti—Comandante Principale of the Swiss Guard. I’m the one who called your director.”
Vittoria gazed upward. “Thank you for seeing us, sir.”
The commander did not respond. He motioned for them to follow and led them through the tangle of electronics to a door in the side wall of the chamber. “Enter,” he said, holding the door for them.
Langdon and Vittoria walked through and found themselves in a darkened control room where a wall of video monitors was cycling lazily through a series of black-and-white images of the complex. A young guard sat watching the images intently.
“Fuori,” Olivetti said.
The guard packed up and left.
Olivetti walked over to one of the screens and pointed to it. Then he turned toward his guests. “This image is from a remote camera hidden somewhere inside Vatican City. I’d like an explanation.”
Langdon and Vittoria looked at the screen and inhaled in unison. The image was absolute. No doubt. It was CERN’s antimatter canister. Inside, a shimmering droplet of metallic liquid hung ominously in the air, lit by the rhythmic blinking of the LED digital clock. Eerily, the area around the canister was almost entirely dark, as if the antimatter were in a closet or darkened room. At the top of the monitor flashed superimposed text: Live Feed—Camera #86.
Vittoria looked at the time remaining on the flashing indicator on the canister. “Under six hours,” she whispered to Langdon, her face tense.
Langdon checked his watch. “So we have until…” He stopped, a knot tightening in his stomach.
“Midnight,” Vittoria said, with a withering look.
Midnight, Langdon thought. A flair for the dramatic. Apparently whoever stole the canister last night had timed it perfectly. A stark foreboding set in as he realized he was currently sitting at ground zero.
Olivetti’s whisper now sounded more like a hiss. “Does this object belong to your facility?”
Vittoria nodded. “Yes, sir. It was stolen from us. It contains an extremely combustible substance called antimatter.”
Olivetti looked unmoved. “I am quite familiar with incendiaries, Ms. Vetra. I have not heard of antimatter.”
“It’s new technology. We need to locate it immediately or evacuate Vatican City.”
Olivetti closed his eyes slowly and reopened them, as if refocusing on Vittoria might change what he just heard. “Evacuate? Are you aware what is going on here this evening?”
“Yes, sir. And the lives of your cardinals are in danger. We have about six hours. Have you made any headway locating the canister?”
Olivetti shook his head. “We haven’t started looking.”
Vittoria choked. “What? But we expressly heard your guards talking about searching the—”
“Searching, yes,” Olivetti said, “but not for your canister. My men are looking for something else that does not concern you.”
Vittoria’s voice cracked. “You haven’t even begun looking for this canister?”
Olivetti’s pupils seemed to recede into his head. He had the passionless look of an insect. “Ms. Vetra, is it? Let me explain something to you. The director of your facility refused to share any details about this object with me over the phone except to say that I needed to find it immediately. We are exceptionally busy, and I do not have the luxury of dedicating manpower to a situation until I get some facts.”
“There is only one relevant fact at this moment, sir,” Vittoria said, “that being that in six hours that device is going to vaporize this entire complex.”
Olivetti stood motionless. “Ms. Vetra, there is something you need to know.” His tone hinted at patronizing. “Despite the archaic appearance of Vatican City, every single entrance, both public and private, is equipped with the most advanced sensing equipment known to man. If someone tried to enter with any sort of incendiary device it would be detected instantly. We have radioactive isotope scanners, olfactory filters designed by the American DEA to detect the faintest chemical signatures of combustibles and toxins. We also use the most advanced metal detectors and X-ray scanners available.”
“Very impressive,” Vittoria said, matching Olivetti’s cool. “Unfortunately, antimatter is nonradioactive, its chemical signature is that of pure hydrogen, and the canister is plastic. None of those devices would have detected it.”
“But the device has an energy source,” Olivetti said, motioning to the blinking LED. “Even the smallest trace of nickel-cadmium would register as—”
“The batteries are also plastic.”
Olivetti’s patience was clearly starting to wane. “Plastic batteries?”
“Polymer gel electrolyte with Teflon.”
Olivetti leaned toward her, as if to accentuate his height advantage. “Signorina, the Vatican is the target of dozens of bomb threats a month. I personally train every Swiss Guard in modern explosive technology. I am well aware that there is no substance on earth powerful enough to do what you are describing unless you are talking about a nuclear warhead with a fuel core the size of a baseball.”
Vittoria framed him with a fervent stare. “Nature has many mysteries yet to unveil.”
Olivetti leaned closer. “Might I ask exactly who you are? What is your position at CERN?”
“I am a senior member of the research staff and appointed liaison to the Vatican for this crisis.”
“Excuse me for being rude, but if this is indeed a crisis, why am I dealing with you and not your director? And what disrespect do you intend by coming into Vatican City in short pants?”
Langdon groaned. He couldn’t believe that under the circumstances the man was being a stickler for dress code. Then again, he realized, if stone penises could induce lustful thoughts in Vatican residents, Vittoria Vetra in shorts could certainly be a threat to national security.
“Commander Olivetti,” Langdon intervened, trying to diffuse what looked like a second bomb about to explode. “My name is Robert Langdon. I’m a professor of religious studies in the U.S. and unaffiliated with CERN. I have seen an antimatter demonstration and will vouch for Ms. Vetra’s claim that it is exceptionally dangerous. We have reason to believe it was placed inside your complex by an antireligious cult hoping to disrupt your conclave.”
Olivetti turned, peering down at Langdon. “I have a woman in shorts telling me that a droplet of liquid is going to blow up Vatican City, and I have an American professor telling me we are being targeted by some antireligious cult. What exactly is it you expect me to do?”
“Find the canister,” Vittoria said. “Right away.”
“Impossible. That device could be anywhere. Vatican City is enormous.”
“Your cameras don’t have GPS locators on them?”
“They are not generally stolen. This missing camera will take days to locate.”
“We don’t have days,” Vittoria said adamantly. “We have six hours.”
“Six hours until what, Ms. Vetra?” Olivetti’s voice grew louder suddenly. He pointed to the image on the screen. “Until these numbers count down? Until Vatican City disappears? Believe me, I do not take kindly to people tampering with my security system. Nor do I like mechanical contraptions appearing mysteriously inside my walls. I am concerned. It is my job to be concerned. But what you have told me here is unacceptable.”
Langdon spoke before he could stop himself. “Have you heard of the Illuminati?”
The commander’s icy exterior cracked. His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack. “I am warning you. I do not have time for this.”
“So you have heard of the Illuminati?”
Olivetti’s eyes stabbed like bayonets. “I am a sworn defendant of the Catholic Church. Of course I have heard of the Illuminati. They have been dead for decades.”
Langdon reached in his pocket and pulled out the fax image of Leonardo Vetra’s branded body. He handed it to Olivetti.
“I am an Illuminati scholar,” Langdon said as Olivetti studied the picture. “I am having a difficult time accepting that the Illuminati are still active, and yet the appearance of this brand combined with the fact that the Illuminati have a well-known covenant against Vatican City has changed my mind.”
“A computer-generated hoax.” Olivetti handed the fax back to Langdon.
Langdon stared, incredulous. “Hoax? Look at the symmetry! You of all people should realize the authenticity of—”
“Authenticity is precisely what you lack. Perhaps Ms. Vetra has not informed you, but CERN scientists have been criticizing Vatican policies for decades. They regularly petition us for retraction of Creationist theory, formal apologies for Galileo and Copernicus, repeal of our criticism against dangerous or immoral research. What scenario seems more likely to you—that a four-hundred-year-old satanic cult has resurfaced with an advanced weapon of mass destruction, or that some prankster at CERN is trying to disrupt a sacred Vatican event with a well-executed fraud?”
“That photo,” Vittoria said, her voice like boiling lava, “is of my father. Murdered. You think this is my idea of a joke?”
“I don’t know, Ms. Vetra. But I do know until I get some answers that make sense, there is no way I will raise any sort of alarm. Vigilance and discretion are my duty… such that spiritual matters can take place here with clarity of mind. Today of all days.”
Langdon said, “At least postpone the event.”