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Meanwhile, in St. Peter’s Square, the wall of Swiss Guards yelled orders and fanned outward, trying to push the crowds back to a safer distance. It was no use. The crowd was too dense and seemed far more interested in the Vatican’s impending doom than in their own safety. The towering media screens in the square were now transmitting a live countdown of the antimatter canister—a direct feed from the Swiss Guard security monitor—compliments of the camerlegno. Unfortunately, the image of the canister counting down was doing nothing to repel the crowds. The people in the square apparently looked at the tiny droplet of liquid suspended in the canister and decided it was not as menacing as they had thought. They could also see the countdown clock now—a little under forty‑five minutes until detonation. Plenty of time to stay and watch.

Nonetheless, the Swiss Guards unanimously agreed that the camerlegno’s bold decision to address the world with the truth and then provide the media with actual visuals of Illuminati treachery had been a savvy maneuver. The Illuminati had no doubt expected the Vatican to be their usual reticent selves in the face of adversity. Not tonight. Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca had proven himself a commanding foe.

Inside the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Mortati was getting restless. It was past 11:15 P.M. Many of the cardinals were continuing to pray, but others had clustered around the exit, clearly unsettled by the hour. Some of the cardinals began pounding on the door with their fists.

Outside the door Lieutenant Chartrand heard the pounding and didn’t know what to do. He checked his watch. It was time. Captain Rocher had given strict orders that the cardinals were not to be let out until he gave the word. The pounding on the door became more intense, and Chartrand felt uneasy. He wondered if the captain had simply forgotten. The captain had been acting very erratic since his mysterious phone call.

Chartrand pulled out his walkie‑talkie. “Captain? Chartrand here. It is past time. Should I open the Sistine?”

“That door stays shut. I believe I already gave you that order.”

“Yes, sir, I just—”

“Our guest is arriving shortly. Take a few men upstairs, and guard the door of the Pope’s office. The camerlegno is not to go anywhere.”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“What is it that you don’t understand, Lieutenant?”

“Nothing, sir. I am on my way.”

Upstairs in the Office of the Pope, the camerlegno stared in quiet meditation at the fire. Give me strength, God. Bring us a miracle. He poked at the coals, wondering if he would survive the night.