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Vittoria was devastated. But Father Leonardo had some other news. He told Vittoria he had spoken to his superiors, and they said it was okay if Father Leonardo adopted her.

  “Would you like me to adopt you?” Leonardo asked.

  “What’s adopt mean?” Vittoria said.

  Father Leonardo told her.

  Vittoria hugged him for five minutes, crying tears of joy. “Oh yes! Yes!”

  Leonardo told her he had to leave for a while and get their new home settled in Switzerland, but he promised to send for her in six months. It was the longest wait of Vittoria’s life, but Leonardo kept his word. Five days before her ninth birthday, Vittoria moved to Geneva. She attended Geneva International School during the day and learned from her father at night.

  Three years later Leonardo Vetra was hired by CERN. Vittoria and Leonardo relocated to a wonderland the likes of which the young Vittoria had never imagined.

  Vittoria Vetra’s body felt numb as she strode down the LHC tunnel. She saw her muted reflection in the LHC and sensed her father’s absence. Normally she existed in a state of deep calm, in harmony with the world around her. But now, very suddenly, nothing made sense. The last three hours had been a blur.

  It had been 10 A.M. in the Balearic Islands when Kohler’s call came through. Your father has been murdered. Come home immediately. Despite the sweltering heat on the deck of the dive boat, the words had chilled her to the bone, Kohler’s emotionless tone hurting as much as the news.

  Now she had returned home. But home to what? CERN, her world since she was twelve, seemed suddenly foreign. Her father, the man who had made it magical, was gone.

  Deep breaths, she told herself, but she couldn’t calm her mind. The questions circled faster and faster. Who killed her father? And why? Who was this American “specialist”? Why was Kohler insisting on seeing the lab?

  Kohler had said there was evidence that her father’s murder was related to the current project. What evidence? Nobody knew what we were working on! And even if someone found out, why would they kill him?

  As she moved down the LHC tunnel toward her father’s lab, Vittoria realized she was about to unveil her father’s greatest achievement without him there. She had pictured this moment much differently. She had imagined her father calling CERN’s top scientists to his lab, showing them his discovery, watching their awestruck faces. Then he would beam with fatherly pride as he explained to them how it had been one of Vittoria’s ideas that had helped him make the project a reality… that his daughter had been integral in his breakthrough. Vittoria felt a lump in her throat. My father and I were supposed to share this moment together. But here she was alone. No colleagues. No happy faces. Just an American stranger and Maximilian Kohler.

  Maximilian Kohler. Der König.

  Even as a child, Vittoria had disliked the man. Although she eventually came to respect his potent intellect, his icy demeanor always seemed inhuman, the exact antithesis of her father’s warmth. Kohler pursued science for its immaculate logic… her father for its spiritual wonder. And yet oddly there had always seemed to be an unspoken respect between the two men. Genius, someone had once explained to her, accepts genius unconditionally.

  Genius, she thought. My father… Dad. Dead.

  The entry to Leonardo Vetra’s lab was a long sterile hallway paved entirely in white tile. Langdon felt like he was entering some kind of underground insane asylum. Lining the corridor were dozens of framed, black-and-white images. Although Langdon had made a career of studying images, these were entirely alien to him. They looked like chaotic negatives of random streaks and spirals. Modern art? he mused. Jackson Pollock on amphetamines?

  “Scatter plots,” Vittoria said, apparently noting Langdon’s interest. “Computer representations of particle collisions. That’s the Z-particle,” she said, pointing to a faint track that was almost invisible in the confusion. “My father discovered it five years ago. Pure energy—no mass at all. It may well be the smallest building block in nature. Matter is nothing but trapped energy.”

  Matter is energy? Langdon cocked his head. Sounds pretty Zen. He gazed at the tiny streak in the photograph and wondered what his buddies in the Harvard physics department would say when he told them he’d spent the weekend hanging out in a Large Hadron Collider admiring Z-particles.

  “Vittoria,” Kohler said, as they approached the lab’s imposing steel door, “I should mention that I came down here this morning looking for your father.”

  Vittoria flushed slightly. “You did?”

  “Yes. And imagine my surprise when I discovered he had replaced CERN’s standard keypad security with something else.” Kohler motioned to an intricate electronic device mounted beside the door.

  “I apologize,” she said. “You know how he was about privacy. He didn’t want anyone but the two of us to have access.”

  Kohler said, “Fine. Open the door.”

  Vittoria stood a long moment. Then, pulling a deep breath, she walked to the mechanism on the wall.

  Langdon was in no way prepared for what happened next.

  Vittoria stepped up to the device and carefully aligned her right eye with a protruding lens that looked like a telescope. Then she pressed a button. Inside the machine, something clicked. A shaft of light oscillated back and forth, scanning her eyeball like a copy machine.

  “It’s a retina scan,” she said. “Infallible security. Authorized for two retina patterns only. Mine and my father’s.”

  Robert Langdon stood in horrified revelation. The image of Leonardo Vetra came back in grisly detail—the bloody face, the solitary hazel eye staring back, and the empty eye socket. He tried to reject the obvious truth, but then he saw it… beneath the scanner on the white tile floor… faint droplets of crimson. Dried blood.

  Vittoria, thankfully, did not notice.

  The steel door slid open and she walked through.

  Kohler fixed Langdon with an adamant stare. His message was clear: As I told you… the missing eye serves a higher purpose.

  18

  The woman’s hands were tied, her wrists now purple and swollen from chafing. The mahogany-skinned Hassassin lay beside her, spent, admiring his naked prize. He wondered if her current slumber was just a deception, a pathetic attempt to avoid further service to him.

  He did not care. He had reaped sufficient reward. Sated, he sat up in bed.

  In his country women were possessions. Weak. Tools of pleasure. Chattel to be traded like livestock. And they understood their place. But here, in Europe, women feigned a strength and independence that both amused and excited him. Forcing them into physical submission was a gratification he always enjoyed.

  Now, despite the contentment in his loins, the Hassassin sensed another appetite growing within him. He had killed last night, killed and mutilated, and for him killing was like heroin… each encounter satisfying only temporarily before increasing his longing for more. The exhilaration had worn off. The craving had returned.

  He studied the sleeping woman beside him. Running his palm across her neck, he felt aroused with the knowledge that he could end her life in an instant. What would it matter? She was subhuman, a vehicle only of pleasure and service. His strong fingers encircled her throat, savoring her delicate pulse. Then, fighting desire, he removed his hand. There was work to do. Service to a higher cause than his own desire.

  As he got out of bed, he reveled in the honor of the job before him. He still could not fathom the influence of this man named Janus and the ancient brotherhood he commanded. Wondrously, the brotherhood had chosen him. Somehow they had learned of his loathing… and of his skills. How, he would never know. Their roots reach wide.

  Now they had bestowed on him the ultimate honor. He would be their hands and their voice. Their assassin and their messenger. The one his people knew as Malak al-haq–the Angel of Truth.

  19

  Vetra’s lab was wildly futuristic.

  Stark white and bounded on all sides by computers and specialized electronic equipment, it looked like some sort of operating room. Langdon wondered what secrets this place could possibly hold to justify cutting out someone’s eye to gain entrance.

  Kohler looked uneasy as they entered, his eyes seeming to dart about for signs of an intruder. But the lab was deserted. Vittoria moved slowly too… as if the lab felt unknown without her father there.

  Langdon’s gaze landed immediately in the center of the room, where a series of short pillars rose from the floor. Like a miniature Stonehenge, a dozen or so columns of polished steel stood in a circle in the middle of the room. The pillars were about three feet tall, reminding Langdon of museum displays for valuable gems. These pillars, however, were clearly not for precious stones. Each supported a thick, transparent canister about the size of a tennis ball can. They appeared empty.

  Kohler eyed the canisters, looking puzzled. He apparently decided to ignore them for the time being. He turned to Vittoria. “Has anything been stolen?”

  “Stolen? How?” she argued. “The retina scan only allows entry to us.”

  “Just look around.”

  Vittoria sighed and surveyed the room for a few moments. She shrugged. “Everything looks as my father always leaves it. Ordered chaos.”

  Langdon sensed Kohler weighing his options, as if wondering how far to push Vittoria… how much to tell her. Apparently he decided to leave it for the moment. Moving his wheelchair toward the center of the room, he surveyed the mysterious cluster of seemingly empty canisters.

  “Secrets,” Kohler finally said, “are a luxury we can no longer afford.”

  Vittoria nodded in acquiescence, looking suddenly emotional, as if being here brought with it a torrent of memories.

  Give her a minute, Langdon thought.

  As though preparing for what she was about to reveal, Vittoria closed her eyes and breathed. Then she breathed again. And again. And again…

  Langdon watched her, suddenly concerned. Is she okay? He glanced at Kohler, who appeared unfazed, apparently having seen this ritual before. Ten seconds passed before Vittoria opened her eyes.

  Langdon could not believe the metamorphosis. Vittoria Vetra had been transformed. Her full lips were lax, her shoulders down, and her eyes soft and assenting. It was as though she had realigned every muscle in her body to accept the situation. The resentful fire and personal anguish had been quelled somehow beneath a deeper, watery cool.

  “Where to begin…” she said, her accent unruffled.

  “At the beginning,” Kohler said. “Tell us about your father’s experiment.”

  “Rectifying science with religion has been my father’s life dream,” Vittoria said. “He hoped to prove that science and religion are two totally compatible fields—two different approaches to finding the same truth.” She paused as if unable to believe what she was about to say. “And recently… he conceived of a way to do that.”

  Kohler said nothing.

  “He devised an experiment, one he hoped would settle one of the most bitter conflicts in the history of science and religion.”

  Langdon wondered which conflict she could mean. There were so many.

  “Creationism,” Vittoria declared. “The battle over how the universe came to be.”

  Oh, Langdon thought. The debate.

  “The Bible, of course, states that God created the universe,” she explained. “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and everything we see appeared out of a vast emptiness. Unfortunately, one of the fundamental laws of physics states that matter cannot be created out of nothing.”

  Langdon had read about this stalemate. The idea that God allegedly created “something from nothing” was totally contrary to accepted laws of modern physics and therefore, scientists claimed, Genesis was scientifically absurd.

  “Mr. Langdon,” Vittoria said, turning, “I assume you are familiar with the Big Bang Theory?”

  Langdon shrugged. “More or less.” The Big Bang, he knew, was the scientifically accepted model for the creation of the universe. He didn’t really understand it, but according to the theory, a single point of intensely focused energy erupted in a cataclysmic explosion, expanding outward to form the universe. Or something like that.

  Vittoria continued. “When the Catholic Church first proposed the Big Bang Theory in 1927, the—”

  “I’m sorry?” Langdon interrupted, before he could stop himself. “You say the Big Bang was a Catholic idea?”

  Vittoria looked surprised by his question “Of course. Proposed by a Catholic monk, Georges Lemaоtre in 1927.”

  “But, I thought…” he hesitated. “Wasn’t the Big Bang proposed by Harvard astronomer Edwin Hubble?”

  Kohler glowered. “Again, American scientific arrogance. Hubble published in 1929, two years after Lemaоtre.”

  Langdon scowled. It’s called the Hubble Telescope, sir—I’ve never heard of any Lemaоtre Telescope!

  “Mr. Kohler is right,” Vittoria said, “the idea belonged to Lemaоtre. Hubble only confirmed it by gathering the hard evidence that proved the Big Bang was scientifically probable.”

  “Oh,” Langdon said, wondering if the Hubble-fanatics in the Harvard Astronomy Department ever mentioned Lemaоtre in their lectures.

  “When Lemaоtre first proposed the Big Bang Theory,” Vittoria continued, “scientists claimed it was utterly ridiculous. Matter, science said, could not be created out of nothing. So, when Hubble shocked the world by scientifically proving the Big Bang was accurate, the church claimed victory, heralding this as proof that the Bible was scientifically accurate. The divine truth.”

  Langdon nodded, focusing intently now.

  “Of course scientists did not appreciate having their discoveries used by the church to promote religion, so they immediately mathematicized the Big Bang Theory, removed all religious overtones, and claimed it as their own. Unfortunately for science, however, their equations, even today, have one serious deficiency that the church likes to point out.”

  Kohler grunted. “The singularity.” He spoke the word as if it were the bane of his existence.

  “Yes, the singularity,” Vittoria said. “The exact moment of creation. Time zero.” She looked at Langdon. “Even today, science cannot grasp the initial moment of creation. Our equations explain the early universe quite effectively, but as we move back in time, approaching time zero, suddenly our mathematics disintegrates, and everything becomes meaningless.”

  “Correct,” Kohler said, his voice edgy, “and the church holds up this deficiency as proof of God’s miraculous involvement. Come to your point.”

  Vittoria’s expression became distant. “My point is that my father had always believed in God’s involvement in the Big Bang. Even though science was unable to comprehend the divine moment of creation, he believed someday it would.” She motioned sadly to a laser-printed memo tacked over her father’s work area. “My dad used to wave that in my face every time I had doubts.”

  Langdon read the message:

  Science and religion are not at odds.

  Science is simply too young to understand.

  “My dad wanted to bring science to a higher level,” Vittoria said, “where science supported the concept of God.” She ran a hand through her long hair, looking melancholy. “He set out to do something no scientist had ever thought to do. Something that no one has ever had the technology to do.” She paused, as though uncertain how to speak the next words. “He designed an experiment to prove Genesis was possible.”

  Prove Genesis? Langdon wondered. Let there be light? Matter from nothing?

  Kohler’s dead gaze bore across the room. “I beg your pardon?”

  “My father created a universe… from nothing at all.”

  Kohler snapped his head around. “What!”

  “Better said, he recreated the Big Bang.”

  Kohler looked ready to jump to his feet.

  Langdon was officially lost. Creating a universe? Recreating the Big Bang?

  “It was done on a much smaller scale, of course,” Vittoria said, talking faster now. “The process was remarkably simple. He accelerated two ultrathin particle beams in opposite directions around the accelerator tube. The two beams collided head-on at enormous speeds, driving into one another and compressing all their energy into a single pinpoint. He achieved extreme energy densities.” She started rattling off a stream of units, and the director’s eyes grew wider.

  Langdon tried to keep up. So Leonardo Vetra was simulating the compressed point of energy from which the universe supposedly sprang.

  “The result,” Vittoria said, “was nothing short of wondrous. When it is published, it will shake the very foundation of modern physics.” She spoke slowly now, as though savoring the immensity of her news. “Without warning, inside the accelerator tube, at this point of highly focused energy, particles of matter began appearing out of nowhere.”

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