Inside the chopper, the whine of the engines and the gale from the open door assaulted Langdon’s senses with a deafening chaos. He steadied himself against the magnified drag of gravity as the camerlegno accelerated the craft straight up. The glow of St. Peter’s Square shrank beneath them until it was an amorphous glowing ellipse radiating in a sea of city lights.
The antimatter canister felt like deadweight in Langdon’s hands. He held tighter, his palms slick now with sweat and blood. Inside the trap, the globule of antimatter hovered calmly, pulsing red in the glow of the LED countdown clock.
“Two minutes!” Langdon yelled, wondering where the camerlegno intended to drop the canister.
The city lights beneath them spread out in all directions. In the distance to the west, Langdon could see the twinkling delineation of the Mediterranean coast—a jagged border of luminescence beyond which spread an endless dark expanse of nothingness. The sea looked farther now than Langdon had imagined. Moreover, the concentration of lights at the coast was a stark reminder that even far out at sea an explosion might have devastating effects. Langdon had not even considered the effects of a ten‑kiloton tidal wave hitting the coast.
When Langdon turned and looked straight ahead through the cockpit window, he was more hopeful. Directly in front of them, the rolling shadows of the Roman foothills loomed in the night. The hills were spotted with lights—the villas of the very wealthy—but a mile or so north, the hills grew dark. There were no lights at all—just a huge pocket of blackness. Nothing.
The quarries! Langdon thought. La Cava Romana!
Staring intently at the barren pocket of land, Langdon sensed that it was plenty large enough. It seemed close, too. Much closer than the ocean. Excitement surged through him. This was obviously where the camerlegno planned to take the antimatter! The chopper was pointing directly toward it! The quarries! Oddly, however, as the engines strained louder and the chopper hurtled through the air, Langdon could see that the quarries were not getting any closer. Bewildered, he shot a glance out the side door to get his bearings. What he saw doused his excitement in a wave of panic. Directly beneath them, thousands of feet straight down, glowed the media lights in St. Peter’s Square.
We’re still over the Vatican!
“Camerlegno!” Langdon choked. “Go forward! We’re high enough ! You’ve got to start moving forward! We can’t drop the canister back over Vatican City!”
The camerlegno did not reply. He appeared to be concentrating on flying the craft.
“We’ve got less than two minutes!” Langdon shouted, holding up the canister. “I can see them! La Cava Romana! A couple of miles north! We don’t have—”
“No,” the camerlegno said. “It’s far too dangerous. I’m sorry.” As the chopper continued to claw heavenward, the camerlegno turned and gave Langdon a mournful smile. “I wish you had not come, my friend. You have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Langdon looked in the camerlegno’s exhausted eyes and suddenly understood. His blood turned to ice. “But . . . there must be somewhere we can go!”
“Up,” the camerlegno replied, his voice resigned. “It’s the only guarantee.”
Langdon could barely think. He had entirely misinterpreted the camerlegno’s plan. Look to the heavens!
Heaven, Langdon now realized, was literally where he was headed. The camerlegno had never intended to drop the antimatter. He was simply getting it as far away from Vatican City as humanly possible.
This was a one‑way trip.