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“This morning,” Kohler challenged, “when I typed the word ‘Illuminati’ into the computer, it returned thousands of current references. Apparently a lot of people think this group is still active.”

  “Conspiracy buffs,” Langdon replied. He had always been annoyed by the plethora of conspiracy theories that circulated in modern pop culture. The media craved apocalyptic headlines, and self-proclaimed “cult specialists” were still cashing in on millennium hype with fabricated stories that the Illuminati were alive and well and organizing their New World Order. Recently the New York Times had reported the eerie Masonic ties of countless famous men—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Duke of Kent, Peter Sellers, Irving Berlin, Prince Philip, Louis Armstrong, as well as a pantheon of well-known modern-day industrialists and banking magnates.

  Kohler pointed angrily at Vetra’s body. “Considering the evidence, I would say perhaps the conspiracy buffs are correct.”

  “I realize how it appears,” Langdon said as diplomatically as he could. “And yet a far more plausible explanation is that some other organization has taken control of the Illuminati brand and is using it for their own purposes.”

  “What purposes? What does this murder prove?”

  Good question, Langdon thought. He also was having trouble imagining where anyone could have turned up the Illuminati brand after 400 years. “All I can tell you is that even if the Illuminati were still active today, which I am virtually positive they are not, they would never be involved in Leonardo Vetra’s death.”

  “No?”

  “No. The Illuminati may have believed in the abolition of Christianity, but they wielded their power through political and financial means, not through terrorists acts. Furthermore, the Illuminati had a strict code of morality regarding who they saw as enemies. They held men of science in the highest regard. There is no way they would have murdered a fellow scientist like Leonardo Vetra.”

  Kohler’s eyes turned to ice. “Perhaps I failed to mention that Leonardo Vetra was anything but an ordinary scientist.”

  Langdon exhaled patiently. “Mr. Kohler, I’m sure Leonardo Vetra was brilliant in many ways, but the fact remains—”

  Without warning, Kohler spun in his wheelchair and accelerated out of the living room, leaving a wake of swirling mist as he disappeared down a hallway.

  For the love of God, Langdon groaned. He followed. Kohler was waiting for him in a small alcove at the end of the hallway.

  “This is Leonardo’s study,” Kohler said, motioning to the sliding door. “Perhaps when you see it you’ll understand things differently.” With an awkward grunt, Kohler heaved, and the door slid open.

  Langdon peered into the study and immediately felt his skin crawl. Holy mother of Jesus, he said to himself.

  12

  In another country, a young guard sat patiently before an expansive bank of video monitors. He watched as images flashed before him—live feeds from hundreds of wireless video cameras that surveyed the sprawling complex. The images went by in an endless procession.

  An ornate hallway.

  A private office.

  An industrial-size kitchen.

  As the pictures went by, the guard fought off a daydream. He was nearing the end of his shift, and yet he was still vigilant. Service was an honor. Someday he would be granted his ultimate reward.

  As his thoughts drifted, an image before him registered alarm. Suddenly, with a reflexive jerk that startled even himself, his hand shot out and hit a button on the control panel. The picture before him froze.

  His nerves tingling, he leaned toward the screen for a closer look. The reading on the monitor told him the image was being transmitted from camera #86—a camera that was supposed to be overlooking a hallway.

  But the image before him was most definitely not a hallway.

  13

  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.”

  “An item?”

  “Follow me.”

  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?”

  14

  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.”

  “What?”

  “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?”

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