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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.”
Hundreds of miles from CERN, a voice crackled through a walkie-talkie. “Okay, I’m in the hallway.”
The technician monitoring the video screens pressed the button on his transmitter. “You’re looking for camera #86. It’s supposed to be at the far end.”
There was a long silence on the radio. The waiting technician broke a light sweat. Finally his radio clicked.
“The camera isn’t here,” the voice said. “I can see where it was mounted, though. Somebody must have removed it.”
The technician exhaled heavily. “Thanks. Hold on a second, will you?”
Sighing, he redirected his attention to the bank of video screens in front of him. Huge portions of the complex were open to the public, and wireless cameras had gone missing before, usually stolen by visiting pranksters looking for souvenirs. But as soon as a camera left the facility and was out of range, the signal was lost, and the screen went blank. Perplexed, the technician gazed up at the monitor. A crystal clear image was still coming from camera #86.
If the camera was stolen, he wondered, why are we still getting a signal? He knew, of course, there was only one explanation. The camera was still inside the complex, and someone had simply moved it. But who? And why?
He studied the monitor a long moment. Finally he picked up his walkie-talkie. “Are there any closets in that stairwell? Any cupboards or dark alcoves?”
The voice replying sounded confused. “No. Why?”
The technician frowned. “Never mind. Thanks for your help.” He turned off his walkie-talkie and pursed his lips.
Considering the small size of the video camera and the fact that it was wireless, the technician knew that camera #86 could be transmitting from just about anywhere within the heavily guarded compound—a densely packed collection of thirty-two separate buildings covering a half-mile radius. The only clue was that the camera seemed to have been placed somewhere dark. Of course, that wasn’t much help. The complex contained endless dark locations—maintenance closets, heating ducts, gardening sheds, bedroom wardrobes, even a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Camera #86 could take weeks to locate.
But that’s the least of my problems, he thought.
Despite the dilemma posed by the camera’s relocation, there was another far more unsettling matter at hand. The technician gazed up at the image the lost camera was transmitting. It was a stationary object. A modern-looking device like nothing the technician had ever seen. He studied the blinking electronic display at its base.
Although the guard had undergone rigorous training preparing him for tense situations, he still sensed his pulse rising. He told himself not to panic. There had to be an explanation. The object appeared too small to be of significant danger. Then again, its presence inside the complex was troubling. Very troubling, indeed.
Today of all days, he thought.
Security was always a top priority for his employer, but today, more than any other day in the past twelve years, security was of the utmost importance. The technician stared at the object for a long time and sensed the rumblings of a distant gathering storm.
Then, sweating, he dialed his superior.
Not many children could say they remembered the day they met their father, but Vittoria Vetra could. She was eight years old, living where she always had, Orfanotrofio di Siena, a Catholic orphanage near Florence, deserted by parents she never knew. It was raining that day. The nuns had called for her twice to come to dinner, but as always she pretended not to hear. She lay outside in the courtyard, staring up at the raindrops… feeling them hit her body… trying to guess where one would land next. The nuns called again, threatening that pneumonia might make an insufferably headstrong child a lot less curious about nature.
I can’t hear you, Vittoria thought.
She was soaked to the bone when the young priest came out to get her. She didn’t know him. He was new there. Vittoria waited for him to grab her and drag her back inside. But he didn’t. Instead, to her wonder, he lay down beside her, soaking his robes in a puddle.
“They say you ask a lot of questions,” the young man said.
Vittoria scowled. “Are questions bad?”
He laughed. “Guess they were right.”
“What are you doing out here?”
“Same thing you’re doing… wondering why raindrops fall.”
“I’m not wondering why they fall! I already know!”
The priest gave her an astonished look. “You do?”
“Sister Francisca says raindrops are angels’ tears coming down to wash away our sins.”
“Wow!” he said, sounding amazed. “So that explains it.”
“No it doesn’t!” the girl fired back. “Raindrops fall because everything falls! Everything falls! Not just rain!”
The priest scratched his head, looking perplexed. “You know, young lady, you’re right. Everything does fall. It must be gravity.”
“It must be what?”
He gave her an astonished look. “You haven’t heard of gravity?”
The priest shrugged sadly. “Too bad. Gravity answers a lot of questions.”
Vittoria sat up. “What’s gravity?” she demanded. “Tell me!”
The priest gave her a wink. “What do you say I tell you over dinner.”
The young priest was Leonardo Vetra. Although he had been an award-winning physics student while in university, he’d heard another call and gone into the seminary. Leonardo and Vittoria became unlikely best friends in the lonely world of nuns and regulations. Vittoria made Leonardo laugh, and he took her under his wing, teaching her that beautiful things like rainbows and the rivers had many explanations. He told her about light, planets, stars, and all of nature through the eyes of both God and science. Vittoria’s innate intellect and curiosity made her a captivating student. Leonardo protected her like a daughter.
Vittoria was happy too. She had never known the joy of having a father. When every other adult answered her questions with a slap on the wrist, Leonardo spent hours showing her books. He even asked what her ideas were. Vittoria prayed Leonardo would stay with her forever. Then one day, her worst nightmare came true. Father Leonardo told her he was leaving the orphanage.
“I’m moving to Switzerland,” Leonardo said. “I have a grant to study physics at the University of Geneva.”
“Physics?” Vittoria cried. “I thought you loved God!”
“I do, very much. Which is why I want to study his divine rules. The laws of physics are the canvas God laid down on which to paint his masterpiece.”