The camerlegno erupted through the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica at exactly 11:56 P.M. He staggered into the dazzling glare of the world spotlight, carrying the antimatter before him like some sort of numinous offering. Through burning eyes he could see his own form, half‑naked and wounded, towering like a giant on the media screens around the square. The roar that went up from the crowd in St. Peter’s Square was like none the camerlegno had ever heard—crying, screaming, chanting, praying . . . a mix of veneration and terror.
Deliver us from evil, he whispered.
He felt totally depleted from his race out of the Necropolis. It had almost ended in disaster. Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra had wanted to intercept him, to throw the canister back into its subterranean hiding place, to run outside for cover. Blind fools!
The camerlegno realized now, with fearful clarity, that on any other night, he would never have won the race. Tonight, however, God again had been with him. Robert Langdon, on the verge of overtaking the camerlegno, had been grabbed by Chartrand, ever trusting and dutiful to the camerlegno’s demands for faith. The reporters, of course, were spellbound and lugging too much equipment to interfere.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
The camerlegno could hear the others behind him now . . . see them on the screens, closing in. Mustering the last of his physical strength, he raised the antimatter high over his head. Then, throwing back his bare shoulders in an act of defiance to the Illuminati brand on his chest, he dashed down the stairs.
There was one final act.
Godspeed, he thought. Godspeed.
Four minutes . . .
Langdon could barely see as he burst out of the basilica. Again the sea of media lights bore into his retinas. All he could make out was the murky outline of the camerlegno, directly ahead of him, running down the stairs. For an instant, refulgent in his halo of media lights, the camerlegno looked celestial, like some kind of modern deity. His cassock was at his waist like a shroud. His body was scarred and wounded by the hands of his enemies, and still he endured. The camerlegno ran on, standing tall, calling out to the world to have faith, running toward the masses carrying this weapon of destruction.
Langdon ran down the stairs after him. What is he doing? He will kill them all!
“Satan’s work,” the camerlegno screamed, “has no place in the House of God!” He ran on toward a now terrified crowd.
“Father!” Langdon screamed, behind him. “There’s nowhere to go!”
“Look to the heavens! We forget to look to the heavens!”
In that moment, as Langdon saw where the camerlegno was headed, the glorious truth came flooding all around him. Although Langdon could not see it on account of the lights, he knew their salvation was directly overhead.
A star‑filled Italian sky. The escape route.
The helicopter the camerlegno had summoned to take him to the hospital sat dead ahead, pilot already in the cockpit, blades already humming in neutral. As the camerlegno ran toward it, Langdon felt a sudden overwhelming exhilaration.
The thoughts that tore through Langdon’s mind came as a torrent . . .
First he pictured the wide‑open expanse of the Mediterranean Sea. How far was it? Five miles? Ten? He knew the beach at Fiumocino was only about seven minutes by train. But by helicopter, 200 miles an hour, no stops . . . If they could fly the canister far enough out to sea, and drop it . . . There were other options too, he realized, feeling almost weightless as he ran. La Cava Romana! The marble quarries north of the city were less than three miles away. How large were they? Two square miles? Certainly they were deserted at this hour! Dropping the canister there . . .
“Everyone back!” the camerlegno yelled. His chest ached as he ran. “Get away! Now!”
The Swiss Guard standing around the chopper stood slack‑jawed as the camerlegno approached them.
“Back!” the priest screamed.
The guards moved back.
With the entire world watching in wonder, the camerlegno ran around the chopper to the pilot’s door and yanked it open. “Out, son! Now!”
The guard jumped out.
The camerlegno looked at the high cockpit seat and knew that in his exhausted state, he would need both hands to pull himself up. He turned to the pilot, trembling beside him, and thrust the canister into his hands. “Hold this. Hand it back when I’m in.”
As the camerlegno pulled himself up, he could hear Robert Langdon yelling excitedly, running toward the craft. Now you understand, the camerlegno thought. Now you have faith!
The camerlegno pulled himself up into the cockpit, adjusted a few familiar levers, and then turned back to his window for the canister.
But the guard to whom he had given the canister stood empty‑handed. “He took it!” the guard yelled.
The camerlegno felt his heart seize. “Who!”
The guard pointed. “Him!”
Robert Langdon was surprised by how heavy the canister was. He ran to the other side of the chopper and jumped in the rear compartment where he and Vittoria had sat only hours ago. He left the door open and buckled himself in. Then he yelled to the camerlegno in the front seat.
The camerlegno craned back at Langdon, his face bloodless with dread. “What are you doing!”
“You fly! I’ll throw!” Langdon barked. “There’s no time! Just fly the blessed chopper!”
The camerlegno seemed momentarily paralyzed, the media lights glaring through the cockpit darkening the creases in his face. “I can do this alone,” he whispered. “I am supposed to do this alone.”
Langdon wasn’t listening. Fly! he heard himself screaming. Now! I’m here to help you! Langdon looked down at the canister and felt his breath catch in his throat when he saw the numbers. “Three minutes, Father! Three! “
The number seemed to stun the camerlegno back to sobriety. Without hesitation, he turned back to the controls. With a grinding roar, the helicopter lifted off.
Through a swirl of dust, Langdon could see Vittoria running toward the chopper. Their eyes met, and then she dropped away like a sinking stone.