Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca stood in the aisle of the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals were all standing near the front of the church, turned, staring at him. Robert Langdon was on the altar beside a television that was on endless loop, playing a scene the camerlegno recognized but could not imagine how it had come to be. Vittoria Vetra stood beside him, her face drawn.
The camerlegno closed his eyes for a moment, hoping the morphine was making him hallucinate and that when he opened them the scene might be different. But it was not.
Oddly, he felt no fear. Show me the way, Father. Give me the words that I can make them see Your vision.
But the camerlegno heard no reply.
Father, We have come too far together to fail now.
They do not understand what We have done.
The camerlegno did not know whose voice he heard in his own mind, but the message was stark.
And the truth shall set you free . . .
And so it was that Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca held his head high as he walked toward the front of the Sistine Chapel. As he moved toward the cardinals, not even the diffused light of the candles could soften the eyes boring into him. Explain yourself, the faces said. Make sense of this madness. Tell us our fears are wrong!
Truth, the camerlegno told himself. Only truth. There were too many secrets in these walls . . . one so dark it had driven him to madness. But from the madness had come the light.
“If you could give your own soul to save millions,” the camerlegno said, as he moved down the aisle, “would you?”
The faces in the chapel simply stared. No one moved. No one spoke. Beyond the walls, the joyous strains of song could be heard in the square.
The camerlegno walked toward them. “Which is the greater sin? Killing one’s enemy? Or standing idle while your true love is strangled?” They are singing in St. Peter’s Square! The camerlegno stopped for a moment and gazed up at the ceiling of the Sistine. Michelangelo’s God was staring down from the darkened vault . . . and He seemed pleased.
“I could no longer stand by,” the camerlegno said. Still, as he drew nearer, he saw no flicker of understanding in anyone’s eyes. Didn’t they see the radiant simplicity of his deeds? Didn’t they see the utter necessity!
It had been so pure.
The Illuminati. Science and Satan as one.
Resurrect the ancient fear. Then crush it.
Horror and Hope. Make them believe again.
Tonight, the power of the Illuminati had been unleashed anew . . . and with glorious consequence. The apathy had evaporated. The fear had shot out across the world like a bolt of lightning, uniting the people. And then God’s majesty had vanquished the darkness.
I could not stand idly by!
The inspiration had been God’s own—appearing like a beacon in the camerlegno’s night of agony. Oh, this faithless world! Someone must deliver them. You. If not you, who? You have been saved for a reason. Show them the old demons. Remind them of their fear. Apathy is death. Without darkness, there is no light. Without evil, there is no good. Make them choose. Dark or light. Where is the fear? Where are the heroes? If not now, when?
The camerlegno walked up the center aisle directly toward the crowd of standing cardinals. He felt like Moses as the sea of red sashes and caps parted before him, allowing him to pass. On the altar, Robert Langdon switched off the television, took Vittoria’s hand, and relinquished the altar. The fact that Robert Langdon had survived, the camerlegno knew, could only have been God’s will. God had saved Robert Langdon. The camerlegno wondered why.
The voice that broke the silence was the voice of the only woman in the Sistine Chapel. “You killed my father?” she said, stepping forward.
When the camerlegno turned to Vittoria Vetra, the look on her face was one he could not quite understand—pain yes, but anger ? Certainly she must understand. Her father’s genius was deadly. He had to be stopped. For the good of Mankind.
“He was doing God’s work,” Vittoria said.
“God’s work is not done in a lab. It is done in the heart.”
“My father’s heart was pure! And his research proved—”
“His research proved yet again that man’s mind is progressing faster than his soul!” The camerlegno’s voice was sharper than he had expected. He lowered his voice. “If a man as spiritual as your father could create a weapon like the one we saw tonight, imagine what an ordinary man will do with his technology.”
“A man like you ?”
The camerlegno took a deep breath. Did she not see? Man’s morality was not advancing as fast as man’s science. Mankind was not spiritually evolved enough for the powers he possessed. We have never created a weapon we have not used! And yet he knew that antimatter was nothing—another weapon in man’s already burgeoning arsenal. Man could already destroy. Man learned to kill long ago. And his mother’s blood rained down. Leonardo Vetra’s genius was dangerous for another reason.
“For centuries,” the camerlegno said, “the church has stood by while science picked away at religion bit by bit. Debunking miracles. Training the mind to overcome the heart. Condemning religion as the opiate of the masses. They denounce God as a hallucination—a delusional crutch for those too weak to accept that life is meaningless. I could not stand by while science presumed to harness the power of God himself! Proof, you say? Yes, proof of science’s ignorance! What is wrong with the admission that something exists beyond our understanding? The day science substantiates God in a lab is the day people stop needing faith!”
“You mean the day they stop needing the church,” Vittoria challenged, moving toward him. “Doubt is your last shred of control. It is doubt that brings souls to you. Our need to know that life has meaning. Man’s insecurity and need for an enlightened soul assuring him everything is part of a master plan. But the church is not the only enlightened soul on the planet! We all seek God in different ways. What are you afraid of? That God will show himself somewhere other than inside these walls? That people will find him in their own lives and leave your antiquated rituals behind? Religions evolve! The mind finds answers, the heart grapples with new truths. My father was on your quest! A parallel path! Why couldn’t you see that? God is not some omnipotent authority looking down from above, threatening to throw us into a pit of fire if we disobey. God is the energy that flows through the synapses of our nervous system and the chambers of our hearts! God is in all things!”
“Except science,” the camerlegno fired back, his eyes showing only pity. “Science, by definition, is soulless. Divorced from the heart. Intellectual miracles like antimatter arrive in this world with no ethical instructions attached. This in itself is perilous! But when science heralds its Godless pursuits as the enlightened path? Promising answers to questions whose beauty is that they have no answers?” He shook his head. “No.”
There was a moment of silence. The camerlegno felt suddenly tired as he returned Vittoria’s unbending stare. This was not how it was supposed to be. Is this God’s final test?
It was Mortati who broke the spell. “The preferiti,” he said in a horrified whisper. “Baggia and the others. Please tell me you did not . . .”
The camerlegno turned to him, surprised by the pain in his voice. Certainly Mortati could understand. Headlines carried science’s miracles every day. How long had it been for religion? Centuries? Religion needed a miracle! Something to awaken a sleeping world. Bring them back to the path of righteousness. Restore faith. The preferiti were not leaders anyway, they were transformers—liberals prepared to embrace the new world and abandon the old ways! This was the only way. A new leader. Young. Powerful. Vibrant. Miraculous. The preferiti served the church far more effectively in death than they ever could alive. Horror and Hope. Offer four souls to save millions. The world would remember them forever as martyrs. The church would raise glorious tribute to their names. How many thousands have died for the glory of God? They are only four.
“The preferiti,” Mortati repeated.
“I shared their pain,” the camerlegno defended, motioning to his chest. “And I too would die for God, but my work is only just begun. They are singing in St. Peter’s Square!”
The camerlegno saw the horror in Mortati’s eyes and again felt confused. Was it the morphine? Mortati was looking at him as if the camerlegno himself had killed these men with his bare hands. I would do even that for God, the camerlegno thought, and yet he had not. The deeds had been carried out by the Hassassin—a heathen soul tricked into thinking he was doing the work of the Illuminati. I am Janus, the camerlegno had told him. I will prove my power. And he had. The Hassassin’s hatred had made him God’s pawn.
“Listen to the singing,” the camerlegno said, smiling, his own heart rejoicing. “Nothing unites hearts like the presence of evil. Burn a church and the community rises up, holding hands, singing hymns of defiance as they rebuild. Look how they flock tonight. Fear has brought them home. Forge modern demons for modern man. Apathy is dead. Show them the face of evil—Satanists lurking among us—running our governments, our banks, our schools, threatening to obliterate the very House of God with their misguided science. Depravity runs deep. Man must be vigilant. Seek the goodness. Become the goodness!”
In the silence, the camerlegno hoped they now understood. The Illuminati had not resurfaced. The Illuminati were long deceased. Only their myth was alive. The camerlegno had resurrected the Illuminati as a reminder. Those who knew the Illuminati history relived their evil. Those who did not, had learned of it and were amazed how blind they had been. The ancient demons had been resurrected to awaken an indifferent world.
“But . . . the brands?” Mortati’s voice was stiff with outrage.
The camerlegno did not answer. Mortati had no way of knowing, but the brands had been confiscated by the Vatican over a century ago. They had been locked away, forgotten and dust covered, in the Papal Vault—the Pope’s private reliquary, deep within his Borgia apartments. The Papal Vault contained those items the church deemed too dangerous for anyone’s eyes except the Pope’s.
Why did they hide that which inspired fear? Fear brought people to God!
The vault’s key was passed down from Pope to Pope. Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca had purloined the key and ventured inside; the myth of what the vault contained was bewitching—the original manuscript for the fourteen unpublished books of the Bible known as the Apocrypha, the third prophecy of Fatima, the first two having come true and the third so terrifying the church would never reveal it. In addition to these, the camerlegno had found the Illuminati Collection—all the secrets the church had uncovered after banishing the group from Rome . . . their contemptible Path of Illumination . . . the cunning deceit of the Vatican’s head artist, Bernini . . . Europe’s top scientists mocking religion as they secretly assembled in the Vatican’s own Castle St. Angelo. The collection included a pentagon box containing iron brands, one of them the mythical Illuminati Diamond. This was a part of Vatican history the ancients thought best forgotten. The camerlegno, however, had disagreed.
“But the antimatter . . .” Vittoria demanded. “You risked destroying the Vatican!”
“There is no risk when God is at your side,” the camerlegno said. “This cause was His.”
“You’re insane!” she seethed.
“Millions were saved.”
“People were killed !”
“Souls were saved.”
“Tell that to my father and Max Kohler!”
“CERN’s arrogance needed to be revealed. A droplet of liquid that can vaporize a half mile? And you call me mad?” The camerlegno felt a rage rising in him. Did they think his was a simple charge? “Those who believe undergo great tests for God! God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child! God commanded Jesus to endure crucifixion! And so we hang the symbol of the crucifix before our eyes—bloody, painful, agonizing—to remind us of evil’s power! To keep our hearts vigilant! The scars on Jesus’ body are a living reminder of the powers of darkness! My scars are a living reminder! Evil lives, but the power of God will overcome!”
His shouts echoed off the back wall of the Sistine Chapel and then a profound silence fell. Time seemed to stop. Michelangelo’s Last Judgment rose ominously behind him . . . Jesus casting sinners into hell. Tears brimmed in Mortati’s eyes.
“What have you done, Carlo?” Mortati asked in a whisper. He closed his eyes, and a tear rolled. “His Holiness ?”
A collective sigh of pain went up, as if everyone in the room had forgotten until that very moment. The Pope. Poisoned.
“A vile liar,” the camerlegno said.
Mortati looked shattered. “What do you mean? He was honest! He . . . loved you.”
“And I him.” Oh, how I loved him! But the deceit! The broken vows to God!
The camerlegno knew they did not understand right now, but they would. When he told them, they would see! His Holiness was the most nefarious deceiver the church had ever seen. The camerlegno still remembered that terrible night. He had returned from his trip to CERN with news of Vetra’s Genesis and of antimatter’s horrific power. The camerlegno was certain the Pope would see the perils, but the Holy Father saw only hope in Vetra’s breakthrough. He even suggested the Vatican fund Vetra’s work as a gesture of goodwill toward spiritually based scientific research.
Madness! The church investing in research that threatened to make the church obsolete? Work that spawned weapons of mass destruction? The bomb that had killed his mother . . .
“But . . . you can’t!” the camerlegno had exclaimed.
“I owe a deep debt to science,” the Pope had replied. “Something I have hidden my entire life. Science gave me a gift when I was a young man. A gift I have never forgotten.”
“I don’t understand. What does science have to offer a man of God ?”
“It is complicated,” the Pope had said. “I will need time to make you understand. But first, there is a simple fact about me that you must know. I have kept it hidden all these years. I believe it is time I told you.”
Then the Pope had told him the astonishing truth.