The images around him blurred, drifting in and out. Langdon’s eyes slowly began to focus. His legs ached, and his body felt like it had been run over by a truck. He was lying on his side on the ground. Something stunk, like bile. He could still hear the incessant sound of lapping water. It no longer sounded peaceful to him. There were other sounds too—talking close around him. He saw blurry white forms. Were they all wearing white? Langdon decided he was either in an asylum or heaven. From the burning in his throat, Langdon decided it could not be heaven.
“He’s finished vomiting,” one man said in Italian. “Turn him.” The voice was firm and professional.
Langdon felt hands slowly rolling him onto his back. His head swam. He tried to sit up, but the hands gently forced him back down. His body submitted. Then Langdon felt someone going through his pockets, removing items.
Then he passed out cold.
Dr. Jacobus was not a religious man; the science of medicine had bred that from him long ago. And yet, the events in Vatican City tonight had put his systematic logic to the test. Now bodies are falling from the sky?
Dr. Jacobus felt the pulse of the bedraggled man they had just pulled from the Tiber River. The doctor decided that God himself had hand‑delivered this one to safety. The concussion of hitting the water had knocked the victim unconscious, and if it had not been for Jacobus and his crew standing out on the shore watching the spectacle in the sky, this falling soul would surely have gone unnoticed and drowned.
“É Americano,” a nurse said, going through the man’s wallet after they pulled him to dry land.
American? Romans often joked that Americans had gotten so abundant in Rome that hamburgers should become the official Italian food. But Americans falling from the sky? Jacobus flicked a penlight in the man’s eyes, testing his dilation. “Sir? Can you hear me? Do you know where you are?”
The man was unconscious again. Jacobus was not surprised. The man had vomited a lot of water after Jacobus had performed CPR.
“Si chiama Robert Langdon,” the nurse said, reading the man’s driver’s license.
The group assembled on the dock all stopped short.
“Impossibile! “Jacobus declared. Robert Langdon was the man from the television—the American professor who had been helping the Vatican. Jacobus had seen Mr. Langdon, only minutes ago, getting into a helicopter in St. Peter’s Square and flying miles up into the air. Jacobus and the others had run out to the dock to witness the antimatter explosion—a tremendous sphere of light like nothing any of them had ever seen. How could this be the same man!
“It’s him!” the nurse exclaimed, brushing his soaked hair back. “And I recognize his tweed coat!”
Suddenly someone was yelling from the hospital entryway. It was one of the patients. She was screaming, going mad, holding her portable radio to the sky and praising God. Apparently Camerlegno Ventresca had just miraculously appeared on the roof of the Vatican.
Dr. Jacobus decided, when his shift got off at 8 A.M . . . he was going straight to church.
The lights over Langdon’s head were brighter now, sterile. He was on some kind of examination table. He smelled astringents, strange chemicals. Someone had just given him an injection, and they had removed his clothes.
Definitely not gypsies, he decided in his semiconscious delirium. Aliens, perhaps? Yes, he had heard about things like this. Fortunately these beings would not harm him. All they wanted were his—
“Not on your life!” Langdon sat bolt upright, eyes flying open.
“Attento! “one of the creatures yelled, steadying him. His badge read Dr. Jacobus. He looked remarkably human.
Langdon stammered, “I . . . thought . . .”
“Easy, Mr. Langdon. You’re in a hospital.”
The fog began to lift. Langdon felt a wave of relief. He hated hospitals, but they certainly beat aliens harvesting his testicles.
“My name is Dr. Jacobus,” the man said. He explained what had just happened. “You are very lucky to be alive.”
Langdon did not feel lucky. He could barely make sense of his own memories . . . the helicopter . . . the camerlegno. His body ached everywhere. They gave him some water, and he rinsed out his mouth. They placed a new gauze on his palm.
“Where are my clothes?” Langdon asked. He was wearing a paper robe.
One of the nurses motioned to a dripping wad of shredded khaki and tweed on the counter. “They were soaked. We had to cut them off you.”
Langdon looked at his shredded Harris tweed and frowned.
“You had some Kleenex in your pocket,” the nurse said.
It was then that Langdon saw the ravaged shreds of parchment clinging all over the lining of his jacket. The folio from Galileo’s Diagramma. The last copy on earth had just dissolved. He was too numb to know how to react. He just stared.
“We saved your personal items.” She held up a plastic bin. “Wallet, camcorder, and pen. I dried the camcorder off the best I could.”
“I don’t own a camcorder.”
The nurse frowned and held out the bin. Langdon looked at the contents. Along with his wallet and pen was a tiny Sony RUVI camcorder. He recalled it now. Kohler had handed it to him and asked him to give it to the media.
“We found it in your pocket. I think you’ll need a new one, though.” The nurse flipped open the two‑inch screen on the back. “Your viewer is cracked.” Then she brightened. “The sound still works, though. Barely.” She held the device up to her ear. “Keeps playing something over and over.” She listened a moment and then scowled, handing it to Langdon. “Two guys arguing, I think.”
Puzzled, Langdon took the camcorder and held it to his ear. The voices were pinched and metallic, but they were discernible. One close. One far away. Langdon recognized them both.
Sitting there in his paper gown, Langdon listened in amazement to the conversation. Although he couldn’t see what was happening, when he heard the shocking finale, he was thankful he had been spared the visual.
As the conversation began playing again from the beginning, Langdon lowered the camcorder from his ear and sat in appalled mystification. The antimatter . . . the helicopter . . . Langdon’s mind now kicked into gear.
But that means . . .
He wanted to vomit again. With a rising fury of disorientation and rage, Langdon got off the table and stood on shaky legs.
“Mr. Langdon!” the doctor said, trying to stop him.
“I need some clothes,” Langdon demanded, feeling the draft on his rear from the backless gown.
“But, you need to rest.”
“I’m checking out. Now. I need some clothes.”
“But, sir, you—”
Everyone exchanged bewildered looks. “We have no clothes,” the doctor said. “Perhaps tomorrow a friend could bring you some.”
Langdon drew a slow patient breath and locked eyes with the doctor. “Dr. Jacobus, I am walking out your door right now. I need clothes. I am going to Vatican City. One does not go to Vatican City with one’s ass hanging out. Do I make myself clear?”
Dr. Jacobus swallowed hard. “Get this man something to wear.”
When Langdon limped out of Hospital Tiberina, he felt like an overgrown Cub Scout. He was wearing a blue paramedic’s jumpsuit that zipped up the front and was adorned with cloth badges that apparently depicted his numerous qualifications.
The woman accompanying him was heavyset and wore a similar suit. The doctor had assured Langdon she would get him to the Vatican in record time.
“Molto traffico,” Langdon said, reminding her that the area around the Vatican was packed with cars and people.
The woman looked unconcerned. She pointed proudly to one of her patches. “Sono conducente di ambulanza.”
“Ambulanza? “That explained it. Langdon felt like he could use an ambulance ride.
The woman led him around the side of the building. On an outcropping over the water was a cement deck where her vehicle sat waiting. When Langdon saw the vehicle he stopped in his tracks. It was an aging medevac chopper. The hull read Aero‑Ambulanza.
He hung his head.
The woman smiled. “Fly Vatican City. Very fast.”