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119

The stone steps declined steeply into the earth.

I’m going to die down here, Vittoria thought, gripping the heavy rope banister as she bounded down the cramped passageway behind the others. Although Langdon had made a move to stop the camerlegno from entering the shaft, Chartrand had intervened, grabbing Langdon and holding on. Apparently, the young guard was now convinced the camerlegno knew what he was doing.

After a brief scuffle, Langdon had freed himself and pursued the camerlegno with Chartrand close on his heels. Instinctively, Vittoria had dashed after them.

Now she was racing headlong down a precipitous grade where any misplaced step could mean a deadly fall. Far below, she could see the golden glow of the camerlegno’s oil lamp. Behind her, Vittoria could hear the BBC reporters hurrying to keep up. The camera spotlight threw gnarled shadows beyond her down the shaft, illuminating Chartrand and Langdon. Vittoria could scarcely believe the world was bearing witness to this insanity. Turn off the damn camera! Then again, she knew the light was the only reason any of them could see where they were going.

As the bizarre chase continued, Vittoria’s thoughts whipped like a tempest. What could the camerlegno possibly do down here? Even if he found the antimatter? There was no time!

Vittoria was surprised to find her intuition now telling her the camerlegno was probably right. Placing the antimatter three stories beneath the earth seemed an almost noble and merciful choice. Deep underground—much as in Z‑lab—an antimatter annihilation would be partially contained. There would be no heat blast, no flying shrapnel to injure onlookers, just a biblical opening of the earth and a towering basilica crumbling into a crater.

Was this Kohler’s one act of decency? Sparing lives? Vittoria still could not fathom the director’s involvement. She could accept his hatred of religion . . . but this awesome conspiracy seemed beyond him. Was Kohler’s loathing really this profound? Destruction of the Vatican? Hiring an assassin? The murders of her father, the Pope, and four cardinals? It seemed unthinkable. And how had Kohler managed all this treachery within the Vatican walls? Rocher was Kohler’s inside man, Vittoria told herself. Rocher was an Illuminatus. No doubt Captain Rocher had keys to everything—the Pope’s chambers, Il Passetto, the Necropolis, St. Peter’s tomb, all of it. He could have placed the antimatter on St. Peter’s tomb—a highly restricted locale—and then commanded his guards not to waste time searching the Vatican’s restricted areas. Rocher knew nobody would ever find the canister.

But Rocher never counted on the camerlegno’s message from above.

The message. This was the leap of faith Vittoria was still struggling to accept. Had God actually communicated with the camerlegno? Vittoria’s gut said no, and yet hers was the science of entanglement physics—the study of interconnectedness. She witnessed miraculous communications every day—twin sea‑turtle eggs separated and placed in labs thousands of miles apart hatching at the same instant . . . acres of jellyfish pulsating in perfect rhythm as if of a single mind. There are invisible lines of communication everywhere, she thought.

But between God and man?

Vittoria wished her father were there to give her faith. He had once explained divine communication to her in scientific terms, and he had made her believe. She still remembered the day she had seen him praying and asked him, “Father, why do you bother to pray? God cannot answer you.”

Leonardo Vetra had looked up from his meditations with a paternal smile. “My daughter the skeptic. So you don’t believe God speaks to man? Let me put it in your language.” He took a model of the human brain down from a shelf and set it in front of her. “As you probably know, Vittoria, human beings normally use a very small percentage of their brain power. However, if you put them in emotionally charged situations—like physical trauma, extreme joy or fear, deep meditation—all of a sudden their neurons start firing like crazy, resulting in massively enhanced mental clarity.”

“So what?” Vittoria said. “Just because you think clearly doesn’t mean you talk to God.”

“Aha!” Vetra exclaimed. “And yet remarkable solutions to seemingly impossible problems often occur in these moments of clarity. It’s what gurus call higher consciousness. Biologists call it altered states. Psychologists call it super‑sentience.” He paused. “And Christians call it answered prayer.” Smiling broadly, he added, “Sometimes, divine revelation simply means adjusting your brain to hear what your heart already knows.”

Now, as she dashed down, headlong into the dark, Vittoria sensed perhaps her father was right. Was it so hard to believe that the camerlegno’s trauma had put his mind in a state where he had simply “realized” the antimatter’s location?

Each of us is a God, Buddha had said. Each of us knows all. We need only open our minds to hear our own wisdom.

It was in that moment of clarity, as Vittoria plunged deeper into the earth, that she felt her own mind open . . . her own wisdom surface. She sensed now without a doubt what the camerlegno’s intentions were. Her awareness brought with it a fear like nothing she had ever known.

“Camerlegno, no!” she shouted down the passage. “You don’t understand!” Vittoria pictured the multitudes of people surrounding Vatican City, and her blood ran cold. “If you bring the antimatter up . . . everyone will die !”

Langdon was leaping three steps at a time now, gaining ground. The passage was cramped, but he felt no claustrophobia. His once debilitating fear was overshadowed by a far deeper dread.

“Camerlegno!” Langdon felt himself closing the gap on the lantern’s glow. “You must leave the antimatter where it is! There’s no other choice!”

Even as Langdon spoke the words, he could not believe them. Not only had he accepted the camerlegno’s divine revelation of the antimatter’s location, but he was lobbying for the destruction of St. Peter’s Basilica—one of the greatest architectural feats on earth . . . as well as all of the art inside.

But the people outside . . . it’s the only way.

It seemed a cruel irony that the only way to save the people now was to destroy the church. Langdon figured the Illuminati were amused by the symbolism.

The air coming up from the bottom of the tunnel was cool and dank. Somewhere down here was the sacred necropolis . . . burial place of St. Peter and countless other early Christians. Langdon felt a chill, hoping this was not a suicide mission.

Suddenly, the camerlegno’s lantern seemed to halt. Langdon closed on him fast.

The end of the stairs loomed abruptly from out of the shadows. A wrought‑iron gate with three embossed skulls blocked the bottom of the stairs. The camerlegno was there, pulling the gate open. Langdon leapt, pushing the gate shut, blocking the camerlegno’s way. The others came thundering down the stairs, everyone ghostly white in the BBC spotlight . . . especially Glick, who was looking more pasty with every step.

Chartrand grabbed Langdon. “Let the camerlegno pass!”

“No!” Vittoria said from above, breathless. “We must evacuate right now! You cannot take the antimatter out of here! If you bring it up, everyone outside will die !”

The camerlegno’s voice was remarkably calm. “All of you . . . we must trust. We have little time.”

“You don’t understand,” Vittoria said. “An explosion at ground level will be much worse than one down here!”

The camerlegno looked at her, his green eyes resplendently sane. “Who said anything about an explosion at ground level?”

Vittoria stared. “You’re leaving it down here?”

The camerlegno’s certitude was hypnotic. “There will be no more death tonight.”

“Father, but—”

“Please . . . some faith.” The camerlegno’s voice plunged to a compelling hush. “I am not asking anyone to join me. You are all free to go. All I am asking is that you not interfere with His bidding. Let me do what I have been called to do.” The camerlegno’s stare intensified. “I am to save this church. And I can. I swear on my life.”

The silence that followed might as well have been thunder.