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60

  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.”

  “I’m relaxed.”

  “You’re crushing my hand.”

  Langdon flushed and loosened up.

  “Breathe through your eyes,” she said.

  “I’m sorry?”

  “It relaxes the muscles. It’s called pranayama.”

  “Piranha?”

  “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.”

  61

  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.

  Langdon nodded.

  “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.”

  “The recesses?”

  “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?”

  Silence.

  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.

  Raphael Santi

  1483-1520

  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!”

  62

  Langdon’s progress around his side of the Pantheon was being hampered somewhat by the guide on his heels, now continuing his tireless narration as Langdon prepared to check the final alcove.

  “You certainly seem to be enjoying those niches!” the docent said, looking delighted. “Were you aware that the tapering thickness of the walls is the reason the dome appears weightless?”

  Langdon nodded, not hearing a word as he prepared to examine another niche. Suddenly someone grabbed him from behind. It was Vittoria. She was breathless and tugging at his arm. From the look of terror on her face, Langdon could only imagine one thing. She found a body. He felt an upswelling of dread.

  “Ah, your wife!” the docent exclaimed, clearly thrilled to have another guest. He motioned to her short pants and hiking boots. “Now you I can tell are American!”

  Vittoria’s eyes narrowed. “I’m Italian.”

  The guide’s smile dimmed. “Oh, dear.”

  “Robert,” Vittoria whispered, trying to turn her back on the guide. “Galileo’s Diagramma. I need to see it.”

  “Diagramma?” the docent said, wheedling back in. “My! You two certainly know your history! Unfortunately that document is not viewable. It is under secret preservation in the Vatican Arc—”

  “Could you excuse us?” Langdon said. He was confused by Vittoria’s panic. He took her aside and reached in his pocket, carefully extracting the Diagramma folio. “What’s going on?”

  “What’s the date on this thing?” Vittoria demanded, scanning the sheet.

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