Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

129

In the hallway outside the Sistine Chapel, Vittoria Vetra sat benumbed on a bench at the foot of the Royal Staircase. When she saw the figure coming through the rear door, she wondered if she were seeing another spirit. He was bandaged, limping, and wearing some kind of medical suit.

She stood . . . unable to believe the vision. “Ro . . . bert?”

He never answered. He strode directly to her and wrapped her in his arms. When he pressed his lips to hers, it was an impulsive, longing kiss filled with thankfulness.

Vittoria felt the tears coming. “Oh, God . . . oh, thank God . . .”

He kissed her again, more passionately, and she pressed against him, losing herself in his embrace. Their bodies locked, as if they had known each other for years. She forgot the fear and pain. She closed her eyes, weightless in the moment.

“It is God’s will!” someone was yelling, his voice echoing in the Sistine Chapel. “Who but the chosen one could have survived that diabolical explosion?”

“Me,” a voice reverberated from the back of the chapel.

Mortati and the others turned in wonder at the bedraggled form coming up the center aisle. “Mr . . . Langdon?

Without a word, Langdon walked slowly to the front of the chapel. Vittoria Vetra entered too. Then two guards hurried in, pushing a cart with a large television on it. Langdon waited while they plugged it in, facing the cardinals. Then Langdon motioned for the guards to leave. They did, closing the door behind them.

Now it was only Langdon, Vittoria, and the cardinals. Langdon plugged the Sony RUVI’s output into the television. Then he pressed Play.

The television blared to life.

The scene that materialized before the cardinals revealed the Pope’s office. The video had been awkwardly filmed, as if by hidden camera. Off center on the screen the camerlegno stood in the dimness, in front of a fire. Although he appeared to be talking directly to the camera, it quickly became evident that he was speaking to someone else—whoever was making this video. Langdon told them the video was filmed by Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN. Only an hour ago Kohler had secretly recorded his meeting with the camerlegno by using a tiny camcorder covertly mounted under the arm of his wheelchair.

Mortati and the cardinals watched in bewilderment. Although the conversation was already in progress, Langdon did not bother to rewind. Apparently, whatever Langdon wanted the cardinals to see was coming up . . .

“Leonardo Vetra kept diaries?” the camerlegno was saying. “I suppose that is good news for CERN. If the diaries contain his processes for creating antimatter—”

“They don’t,” Kohler said. “You will be relieved to know those processes died with Leonardo. However, his diaries spoke of something else. You.”

The camerlegno looked troubled. “I don’t understand.”

“They described a meeting Leonardo had last month. With you.”

The camerlegno hesitated, then looked toward the door. “Rocher should not have granted you access without consulting me. How did you get in here?”

“Rocher knows the truth. I called earlier and told him what you have done.”

“What I have done? Whatever story you told him, Rocher is a Swiss Guard and far too faithful to this church to believe a bitter scientist over his camerlegno.”

“Actually, he is too faithful not to believe. He is so faithful that despite the evidence that one of his loyal guards had betrayed the church, he refused to accept it. All day long he has been searching for another explanation.”

“So you gave him one.”

“The truth. Shocking as it was.”

“If Rocher believed you, he would have arrested me.”

“No. I wouldn’t let him. I offered him my silence in exchange for this meeting.”

The camerlegno let out an odd laugh. “You plan to blackmail the church with a story that no one will possibly believe?”

“I have no need of blackmail. I simply want to hear the truth from your lips. Leonardo Vetra was a friend.”

The camerlegno said nothing. He simply stared down at Kohler.

“Try this,” Kohler snapped. “About a month ago, Leonardo Vetra contacted you requesting an urgent audience with the Pope—an audience you granted because the Pope was an admirer of Leonardo’s work and because Leonardo said it was an emergency.”

The camerlegno turned to the fire. He said nothing.

“Leonardo came to the Vatican in great secrecy. He was betraying his daughter’s confidence by coming here, a fact that troubled him deeply, but he felt he had no choice. His research had left him deeply conflicted and in need of spiritual guidance from the church. In a private meeting, he told you and the Pope that he had made a scientific discovery with profound religious implications. He had proved Genesis was physically possible, and that intense sources of energy—what Vetra called God —could duplicate the moment of Creation.”

Silence.

“The Pope was stunned,” Kohler continued. “He wanted Leonardo to go public. His Holiness thought this discovery might begin to bridge the gap between science and religion—one of the Pope’s life dreams. Then Leonardo explained to you the downside—the reason he required the church’s guidance. It seemed his Creation experiment, exactly as your Bible predicts, produced everything in pairs. Opposites. Light and dark. Vetra found himself, in addition to creating matter, creating antimatter. Shall I go on?”

The camerlegno was silent. He bent down and stoked the coals.

“After Leonardo Vetra came here,” Kohler said, “you came to CERN to see his work. Leonardo’s diaries said you made a personal trip to his lab.”

The camerlegno looked up.

Kohler went on. “The Pope could not travel without attracting media attention, so he sent you. Leonardo gave you a secret tour of his lab. He showed you an antimatter annihilation—the Big Bang—the power of Creation. He also showed you a large specimen he kept locked away as proof that his new process could produce antimatter on a large scale. You were in awe. You returned to Vatican City to report to the Pope what you had witnessed.”

The camerlegno sighed. “And what is it that troubles you? That I would respect Leonardo’s confidentiality by pretending before the world tonight that I knew nothing of antimatter?”

“No! It troubles me that Leonardo Vetra practically proved the existence of your God, and you had him murdered!”

The camerlegno turned now, his face revealing nothing.

The only sound was the crackle of the fire.

Suddenly, the camera jiggled, and Kohler’s arm appeared in the frame. He leaned forward, seeming to struggle with something affixed beneath his wheelchair. When he sat back down, he held a pistol out before him. The camera angle was a chilling one . . . looking from behind . . . down the length of the outstretched gun . . . directly at the camerlegno.

Kohler said, “Confess your sins, Father. Now.”

The camerlegno looked startled. “You will never get out of here alive.”

“Death would be a welcome relief from the misery your faith has put me through since I was a boy.” Kohler held the gun with both hands now. “I am giving you a choice. Confess your sins . . . or die right now.”

The camerlegno glanced toward the door.

“Rocher is outside,” Kohler challenged. “He too is prepared to kill you.”

“Rocher is a sworn protector of th—”

“Rocher let me in here. Armed. He is sickened by your lies. You have a single option. Confess to me. I have to hear it from your very lips.”

The camerlegno hesitated.

Kohler cocked his gun. “Do you really doubt I will kill you?”

“No matter what I tell you,” the camerlegno said, “a man like you will never understand.”

“Try me.”

The camerlegno stood still for a moment, a dominant silhouette in the dim light of the fire. When he spoke, his words echoed with a dignity more suited to the glorious recounting of altruism than that of a confession.

“Since the beginning of time,” the camerlegno said, “this church has fought the enemies of God. Sometimes with words. Sometimes with swords. And we have always survived.”

The camerlegno radiated conviction.

“But the demons of the past,” he continued, “were demons of fire and abomination . . . they were enemies we could fight—enemies who inspired fear. Yet Satan is shrewd. As time passed, he cast off his diabolical countenance for a new face . . . the face of pure reason. Transparent and insidious, but soulless all the same.” The camerlegno’s voice flashed sudden anger—an almost maniacal transition. “Tell me, Mr. Kohler! How can the church condemn that which makes logical sense to our minds! How can we decry that which is now the very foundation of our society! Each time the church raises its voice in warning, you shout back, calling us ignorant. Paranoid. Controlling! And so your evil grows. Shrouded in a veil of self‑righteous intellectualism. It spreads like a cancer. Sanctified by the miracles of its own technology. Deifying itself! Until we no longer suspect you are anything but pure goodness. Science has come to save us from our sickness, hunger, and pain! Behold science—the new God of endless miracles, omnipotent and benevolent! Ignore the weapons and the chaos. Forget the fractured loneliness and endless peril. Science is here!” The camerlegno stepped toward the gun. “But I have seen Satan’s face lurking . . . I have seen the peril . . .”

“What are you talking about! Vetra’s science practically proved the existence of your God! He was your ally!”

“Ally? Science and religion are not in this together! We do not seek the same God, you and I! Who is your God? One of protons, masses, and particle charges? How does your God inspire ? How does your God reach into the hearts of man and remind him he is accountable to a greater power! Remind him that he is accountable to his fellow man! Vetra was misguided. His work was not religious, it was sacrilegious ! Man cannot put God’s Creation in a test tube and wave it around for the world to see! This does not glorify God, it demeans God!” The camerlegno was clawing at his body now, his voice manic.

“And so you had Leonardo Vetra killed!”

“For the church! For all mankind! The madness of it! Man is not ready to hold the power of Creation in his hands. God in a test tube? A droplet of liquid that can vaporize an entire city? He had to be stopped!” The camerlegno fell abruptly silent. He looked away, back toward the fire. He seemed to be contemplating his options.

Kohler’s hands leveled the gun. “You have confessed. You have no escape.”

The camerlegno laughed sadly. “Don’t you see. Confessing your sins is the escape.” He looked toward the door. “When God is on your side, you have options a man like you could never comprehend.” With his words still hanging in the air, the camerlegno grabbed the neck of his cassock and violently tore it open, revealing his bare chest.

Kohler jolted, obviously startled. “What are you doing!”

The camerlegno did not reply. He stepped backward, toward the fireplace, and removed an object from the glowing embers.

“Stop!” Kohler demanded, his gun still leveled. “What are you doing!”

When the camerlegno turned, he was holding a red‑hot brand. The Illuminati Diamond. The man’s eyes looked wild suddenly. “I had intended to do this all alone.” His voice seethed with a feral intensity. “But now . . . I see God meant for you to be here. You are my salvation.”

Before Kohler could react, the camerlegno closed his eyes, arched his back, and rammed the red hot brand into the center of his own chest. His flesh hissed. “Mother Mary! Blessed Mother . . . Behold your son! “He screamed out in agony.

Kohler lurched into the frame now . . . standing awkwardly on his feet, gun wavering wildly before him.

The camerlegno screamed louder, teetering in shock. He threw the brand at Kohler’s feet. Then the priest collapsed on the floor, writhing in agony.

What happened next was a blur.

There was a great flurry onscreen as the Swiss Guard burst into the room. The soundtrack exploded with gunfire. Kohler clutched his chest, blown backward, bleeding, falling into his wheelchair.

“No!” Rocher called, trying to stop his guards from firing on Kohler.

The camerlegno, still writhing on the floor, rolled and pointed frantically at Rocher. “Illuminatus!

“You bastard,” Rocher yelled, running at him. “You sanctimonious bas—”

Chartrand cut him down with three bullets. Rocher slid dead across the floor.

Then the guards ran to the wounded camerlegno, gathering around him. As they huddled, the video caught the face of a dazed Robert Langdon, kneeling beside the wheelchair, looking at the brand. Then, the entire frame began lurching wildly. Kohler had regained consciousness and was detaching the tiny camcorder from its holder under the arm of the wheelchair. Then he tried to hand the camcorder to Langdon.

“G‑give . . .” Kohler gasped. “G‑give this to the m‑media.”

Then the screen went blank.