1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55
On televisions all over the world, larger than life, the camerlegno raced upward out of the Necropolis with the antimatter before him. “There will be no more death tonight!”
But the camerlegno was wrong.
The camerlegno erupted through the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica at exactly 11:56 P.M. He staggered into the dazzling glare of the world spotlight, carrying the antimatter before him like some sort of numinous offering. Through burning eyes he could see his own form, half-naked and wounded, towering like a giant on the media screens around the square. The roar that went up from the crowd in St. Peter’s Square was like none the camerlegno had ever heard—crying, screaming, chanting, praying… a mix of veneration and terror.
Deliver us from evil, he whispered.
He felt totally depleted from his race out of the Necropolis. It had almost ended in disaster. Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra had wanted to intercept him, to throw the canister back into its subterranean hiding place, to run outside for cover. Blind fools!
The camerlegno realized now, with fearful clarity, that on any other night, he would never have won the race. Tonight, however, God again had been with him. Robert Langdon, on the verge of overtaking the camerlegno, had been grabbed by Chartrand, ever trusting and dutiful to the camerlegno’s demands for faith. The reporters, of course, were spellbound and lugging too much equipment to interfere.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
The camerlegno could hear the others behind him now… see them on the screens, closing in. Mustering the last of his physical strength, he raised the antimatter high over his head. Then, throwing back his bare shoulders in an act of defiance to the Illuminati brand on his chest, he dashed down the stairs.
There was one final act.
Godspeed, he thought. Godspeed.
Langdon could barely see as he burst out of the basilica. Again the sea of media lights bore into his retinas. All he could make out was the murky outline of the camerlegno, directly ahead of him, running down the stairs. For an instant, refulgent in his halo of media lights, the camerlegno looked celestial, like some kind of modern deity. His cassock was at his waist like a shroud. His body was scarred and wounded by the hands of his enemies, and still he endured. The camerlegno ran on, standing tall, calling out to the world to have faith, running toward the masses carrying this weapon of destruction.
Langdon ran down the stairs after him. What is he doing? He will kill them all!
“Satan’s work,” the camerlegno screamed, “has no place in the House of God!” He ran on toward a now terrified crowd.
“Father!” Langdon screamed, behind him. “There’s nowhere to go!”
“Look to the heavens! We forget to look to the heavens!”
In that moment, as Langdon saw where the camerlegno was headed, the glorious truth came flooding all around him. Although Langdon could not see it on account of the lights, he knew their salvation was directly overhead.
A star-filled Italian sky. The escape route.
The helicopter the camerlegno had summoned to take him to the hospital sat dead ahead, pilot already in the cockpit, blades already humming in neutral. As the camerlegno ran toward it, Langdon felt a sudden overwhelming exhilaration.
The thoughts that tore through Langdon’s mind came as a torrent…
First he pictured the wide-open expanse of the Mediterranean Sea. How far was it? Five miles? Ten? He knew the beach at Fiumocino was only about seven minutes by train. But by helicopter, 200 miles an hour, no stops… If they could fly the canister far enough out to sea, and drop it… There were other options too, he realized, feeling almost weightless as he ran. La Cava Romana! The marble quarries north of the city were less than three miles away. How large were they? Two square miles? Certainly they were deserted at this hour! Dropping the canister there…
“Everyone back!” the camerlegno yelled. His chest ached as he ran. “Get away! Now!”
The Swiss Guard standing around the chopper stood slack-jawed as the camerlegno approached them.
“Back!” the priest screamed.
The guards moved back.
With the entire world watching in wonder, the camerlegno ran around the chopper to the pilot’s door and yanked it open. “Out, son! Now!”
The guard jumped out.
The camerlegno looked at the high cockpit seat and knew that in his exhausted state, he would need both hands to pull himself up. He turned to the pilot, trembling beside him, and thrust the canister into his hands. “Hold this. Hand it back when I’m in.”
As the camerlegno pulled himself up, he could hear Robert Langdon yelling excitedly, running toward the craft. Now you understand, the camerlegno thought. Now you have faith!
The camerlegno pulled himself up into the cockpit, adjusted a few familiar levers, and then turned back to his window for the canister.
But the guard to whom he had given the canister stood empty-handed. “He took it!” the guard yelled.
The camerlegno felt his heart seize. “Who!”
The guard pointed. “Him!”
Robert Langdon was surprised by how heavy the canister was. He ran to the other side of the chopper and jumped in the rear compartment where he and Vittoria had sat only hours ago. He left the door open and buckled himself in. Then he yelled to the camerlegno in the front seat.
The camerlegno craned back at Langdon, his face bloodless with dread. “What are you doing!”
“You fly! I’ll throw!” Langdon barked. “There’s no time! Just fly the blessed chopper!”
The camerlegno seemed momentarily paralyzed, the media lights glaring through the cockpit darkening the creases in his face. “I can do this alone,” he whispered. “I am supposed to do this alone.”
Langdon wasn’t listening. Fly! he heard himself screaming. Now! I’m here to help you! Langdon looked down at the canister and felt his breath catch in his throat when he saw the numbers. “Three minutes, Father! Three!”
The number seemed to stun the camerlegno back to sobriety. Without hesitation, he turned back to the controls. With a grinding roar, the helicopter lifted off.
Through a swirl of dust, Langdon could see Vittoria running toward the chopper. Their eyes met, and then she dropped away like a sinking stone.
Inside the chopper, the whine of the engines and the gale from the open door assaulted Langdon’s senses with a deafening chaos. He steadied himself against the magnified drag of gravity as the camerlegno accelerated the craft straight up. The glow of St. Peter’s Square shrank beneath them until it was an amorphous glowing ellipse radiating in a sea of city lights.
The antimatter canister felt like deadweight in Langdon’s hands. He held tighter, his palms slick now with sweat and blood. Inside the trap, the globule of antimatter hovered calmly, pulsing red in the glow of the LED countdown clock.
“Two minutes!” Langdon yelled, wondering where the camerlegno intended to drop the canister.
The city lights beneath them spread out in all directions. In the distance to the west, Langdon could see the twinkling delineation of the Mediterranean coast—a jagged border of luminescence beyond which spread an endless dark expanse of nothingness. The sea looked farther now than Langdon had imagined. Moreover, the concentration of lights at the coast was a stark reminder that even far out at sea an explosion might have devastating effects. Langdon had not even considered the effects of a ten-kiloton tidal wave hitting the coast.
When Langdon turned and looked straight ahead through the cockpit window, he was more hopeful. Directly in front of them, the rolling shadows of the Roman foothills loomed in the night. The hills were spotted with lights—the villas of the very wealthy—but a mile or so north, the hills grew dark. There were no lights at all—just a huge pocket of blackness. Nothing.
The quarries! Langdon thought. La Cava Romana!
Staring intently at the barren pocket of land, Langdon sensed that it was plenty large enough. It seemed close, too. Much closer than the ocean. Excitement surged through him. This was obviously where the camerlegno planned to take the antimatter! The chopper was pointing directly toward it! The quarries! Oddly, however, as the engines strained louder and the chopper hurtled through the air, Langdon could see that the quarries were not getting any closer. Bewildered, he shot a glance out the side door to get his bearings. What he saw doused his excitement in a wave of panic. Directly beneath them, thousands of feet straight down, glowed the media lights in St. Peter’s Square.
We’re still over the Vatican!
“Camerlegno!” Langdon choked. “Go forward! We’re high enough! You’ve got to start moving forward! We can’t drop the canister back over Vatican City!”
The camerlegno did not reply. He appeared to be concentrating on flying the craft.
“We’ve got less than two minutes!” Langdon shouted, holding up the canister. “I can see them! La Cava Romana! A couple of miles north! We don’t have—”
“No,” the camerlegno said. “It’s far too dangerous. I’m sorry.” As the chopper continued to claw heavenward, the camerlegno turned and gave Langdon a mournful smile. “I wish you had not come, my friend. You have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Langdon looked in the camerlegno’s exhausted eyes and suddenly understood. His blood turned to ice. “But… there must be somewhere we can go!”
“Up,” the camerlegno replied, his voice resigned. “It’s the only guarantee.”
Langdon could barely think. He had entirely misinterpreted the camerlegno’s plan. Look to the heavens!
Heaven, Langdon now realized, was literally where he was headed. The camerlegno had never intended to drop the antimatter. He was simply getting it as far away from Vatican City as humanly possible.
This was a one-way trip.
In St. Peter’s Square, Vittoria Vetra stared upward. The helicopter was a speck now, the media lights no longer reaching it. Even the pounding of the rotors had faded to a distant hum. It seemed, in that instant, that the entire world was focused upward, silenced in anticipation, necks craned to the heavens… all peoples, all faiths… all hearts beating as one.
Vittoria’s emotions were a cyclone of twisting agonies. As the helicopter disappeared from sight, she pictured Robert’s face, rising above her. What had he been thinking? Didn’t he understand?
Around the square, television cameras probed the darkness, waiting. A sea of faces stared heavenward, united in a silent countdown. The media screens all flickered the same tranquil scene… a Roman sky illuminated with brilliant stars. Vittoria felt the tears begin to well.
Behind her on the marble escarpment, 161 cardinals stared up in silent awe. Some folded their hands in prayer. Most stood motionless, transfixed. Some wept. The seconds ticked past.
In homes, bars, businesses, airports, hospitals around the world, souls were joined in universal witness. Men and women locked hands. Others held their children. Time seemed to hover in limbo, souls suspended in unison.
Then, cruelly, the bells of St. Peter’s began to toll.
Vittoria let the tears come.
Then… with the whole world watching… time ran out.
The dead silence of the event was the most terrifying of all.
High above Vatican City, a pinpoint of light appeared in the sky. For a fleeting instant, a new heavenly body had been born… a speck of light as pure and white as anyone had ever seen.
Then it happened.
A flash. The point billowed, as if feeding on itself, unraveling across the sky in a dilating radius of blinding white. It shot out in all directions, accelerating with incomprehensible speed, gobbling up the dark. As the sphere of light grew, it intensified, like a burgeoning fiend preparing to consume the entire sky. It raced downward, toward them, picking up speed.
Blinded, the multitudes of starkly lit human faces gasped as one, shielding their eyes, crying out in strangled fear.
As the light roared out in all directions, the unimaginable occurred. As if bound by God’s own will, the surging radius seemed to hit a wall. It was as if the explosion were contained somehow in a giant glass sphere. The light rebounded inward, sharpening, rippling across itself. The wave appeared to have reached a predetermined diameter and hovered there. For that instant, a perfect and silent sphere of light glowed over Rome. Night had become day.
Then it hit.
The concussion was deep and hollow—a thunderous shock wave from above. It descended on them like the wrath of hell, shaking the granite foundation of Vatican City, knocking the breath out of people’s lungs, sending others stumbling backward. The reverberation circled the colonnade, followed by a sudden torrent of warm air. The wind tore through the square, letting out a sepulchral moan as it whistled through the columns and buffeted the walls. Dust swirled overhead as people huddled… witnesses to Armageddon.
Then, as fast as it appeared, the sphere imploded, sucking back in on itself, crushing inward to the tiny point of light from which it had come.
Never before had so many been so silent.
The faces in St. Peter’s Square, one by one, averted their eyes from the darkening sky and turned downward, each person in his or her own private moment of wonder. The media lights followed suit, dropping their beams back to earth as if out of reverence for the blackness now settling upon them. It seemed for a moment the entire world was bowing its head in unison.
Cardinal Mortati knelt to pray, and the other cardinals joined him. The Swiss Guard lowered their long swords and stood numb. No one spoke. No one moved. Everywhere, hearts shuddered with spontaneous emotion. Bereavement. Fear. Wonder. Belief. And a dread-filled respect for the new and awesome power they had just witnessed.
Vittoria Vetra stood trembling at the foot of the basilica’s sweeping stairs. She closed her eyes. Through the tempest of emotions now coursing through her blood, a single word tolled like a distant bell. Pristine. Cruel. She forced it away. And yet the word echoed. Again she drove it back. The pain was too great. She tried to lose herself in the images that blazed in other’s minds… antimatter’s mind-boggling power… the Vatican’s deliverance… the camerlegno… feats of bravery… miracles… selflessness. And still the word echoed… tolling through the chaos with a stinging loneliness.
He had come for her at Castle St. Angelo.
He had saved her.
And now he had been destroyed by her creation.
As Cardinal Mortati prayed, he wondered if he too would hear God’s voice as the camerlegno had. Does one need to believe in miracles to experience them? Mortati was a modern man in an ancient faith. Miracles had never played a part in his belief. Certainly his faith spoke of miracles… bleeding palms, ascensions from the dead, imprints on shrouds… and yet, Mortati’s rational mind had always justified these accounts as part of the myth. They were simply the result of man’s greatest weakness—his need for proof. Miracles were nothing but stories we all clung to because we wished they were true.
Am I so modern that I cannot accept what my eyes have just witnessed? It was a miracle, was it not? Yes! God, with a few whispered words in the camerlegno’s ear, had intervened and saved this church. Why was this so hard to believe? What would it say about God if God had done nothing? That the Almighty did not care? That He was powerless to stop it? A miracle was the only possible response!
As Mortati knelt in wonder, he prayed for the camerlegno’s soul. He gave thanks to the young chamberlain who, even in his youthful years, had opened this old man’s eyes to the miracles of unquestioning faith.
Incredibly, though, Mortati never suspected the extent to which his faith was about to be tested…
The silence of St. Peter’s Square broke with a ripple at first. The ripple grew to a murmur. And then, suddenly, to a roar. Without warning, the multitudes were crying out as one.
Mortati opened his eyes and turned to the crowd. Everyone was pointing behind him, toward the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Their faces were white. Some fell to their knees. Some fainted. Some burst into uncontrollable sobs.
Mortati turned, bewildered, following their outstretched hands. They were pointing to the uppermost level of the basilica, the rooftop terrace, where huge statues of Christ and his apostles watched over the crowd.
There, on the right of Jesus, arms outstretched to the world… stood Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca.
Robert Langdon was no longer falling.