Langdon stepped out of Building C into the open air, grateful to be outside Vetra’s flat. The sun helped dissolve the image of the empty eye socket emblazoned into his mind.
“This way, please,” Kohler said, veering up a steep path. The electric wheelchair seemed to accelerate effortlessly. “Ms. Vetra will be arriving any moment.”
Langdon hurried to keep up.
“So,” Kohler asked. “Do you still doubt the Illuminati’s involvement?”
Langdon had no idea what to think anymore. Vetra’s religious affiliations were definitely troubling, and yet Langdon could not bring himself to abandon every shred of academic evidence he had ever researched. Besides, there was the eye . . .
“I still maintain,” Langdon said, more forcefully than he intended. “that the Illuminati are not responsible for this murder. The missing eye is proof.”
“Random mutilation,” Langdon explained, “is very . . . un —Illuminati. Cult specialists see desultory defacement from inexperienced fringe sects—zealots who commit random acts of terrorism—but the Illuminati have always been more deliberate.”
“Deliberate? Surgically removing someone’s eyeball is not deliberate?”
“It sends no clear message. It serves no higher purpose.”
Kohler’s wheelchair stopped short at the top of the hill. He turned. “Mr. Langdon, believe me, that missing eye does indeed serve a higher purpose . . . a much higher purpose.”
As the two men crossed the grassy rise, the beating of helicopter blades became audible to the west. A chopper appeared, arching across the open valley toward them. It banked sharply, then slowed to a hover over a helipad painted on the grass.
Langdon watched, detached, his mind churning circles like the blades, wondering if a full night’s sleep would make his current disorientation any clearer. Somehow, he doubted it.
As the skids touched down, a pilot jumped out and started unloading gear. There was a lot of it—duffels, vinyl wet bags, scuba tanks, and crates of what appeared to be high‑tech diving equipment.
Langdon was confused. “Is that Ms. Vetra’s gear?” he yelled to Kohler over the roar of the engines.
Kohler nodded and yelled back, “She was doing biological research in the Balearic Sea.”
“I thought you said she was a physicist !”
“She is. She’s a Bio Entanglement Physicist. She studies the interconnectivity of life systems. Her work ties closely with her father’s work in particle physics. Recently she disproved one of Einstein’s fundamental theories by using atomically synchronized cameras to observe a school of tuna fish.”
Langdon searched his host’s face for any glint of humor. Einstein and tuna fish? He was starting to wonder if the X‑33 space plane had mistakenly dropped him off on the wrong planet.
A moment later, Vittoria Vetra emerged from the fuselage. Robert Langdon realized today was going to be a day of endless surprises. Descending from the chopper in her khaki shorts and white sleeveless top, Vittoria Vetra looked nothing like the bookish physicist he had expected. Lithe and graceful, she was tall with chestnut skin and long black hair that swirled in the backwind of the rotors. Her face was unmistakably Italian—not overly beautiful, but possessing full, earthy features that even at twenty yards seemed to exude a raw sensuality. As the air currents buffeted her body, her clothes clung, accentuating her slender torso and small breasts.
“Ms. Vetra is a woman of tremendous personal strength,” Kohler said, seeming to sense Langdon’s captivation. “She spends months at a time working in dangerous ecological systems. She is a strict vegetarian and CERN’s resident guru of Hatha yoga.”
Hatha yoga? Langdon mused. The ancient Buddhist art of meditative stretching seemed an odd proficiency for the physicist daughter of a Catholic priest.
Langdon watched Vittoria approach. She had obviously been crying, her deep sable eyes filled with emotions Langdon could not place. Still, she moved toward them with fire and command. Her limbs were strong and toned, radiating the healthy luminescence of Mediterranean flesh that had enjoyed long hours in the sun.
“Vittoria,” Kohler said as she approached. “My deepest condolences. It’s a terrible loss for science . . . for all of us here at CERN.”
Vittoria nodded gratefully. When she spoke, her voice was smooth—a throaty, accented English. “Do you know who is responsible yet?”
“We’re still working on it.”
She turned to Langdon, holding out a slender hand. “My name is Vittoria Vetra. You’re from Interpol, I assume?”
Langdon took her hand, momentarily spellbound by the depth of her watery gaze. “Robert Langdon.” He was unsure what else to say.
“Mr. Langdon is not with the authorities,” Kohler explained. “He is a specialist from the U.S. He’s here to help us locate who is responsible for this situation.”
Vittoria looked uncertain. “And the police?”
Kohler exhaled but said nothing.
“Where is his body?” she demanded.
“Being attended to.”
The white lie surprised Langdon.
“I want to see him,” Vittoria said.
“Vittoria,” Kohler urged, “your father was brutally murdered. You would be better to remember him as he was.”
Vittoria began to speak but was interrupted.
“Hey, Vittoria!” voices called from the distance. “Welcome home!”
She turned. A group of scientists passing near the helipad waved happily.
“Disprove any more of Einstein’s theories?” one shouted.
Another added, “Your dad must be proud!”
Vittoria gave the men an awkward wave as they passed. Then she turned to Kohler, her face now clouded with confusion. “Nobody knows yet?”
“I decided discretion was paramount.”
“You haven’t told the staff my father was murdered ?” Her mystified tone was now laced with anger.
Kohler’s tone hardened instantly. “Perhaps you forget, Ms. Vetra, as soon as I report your father’s murder, there will be an investigation of CERN. Including a thorough examination of his lab. I have always tried to respect your father’s privacy. Your father has told me only two things about your current project. One, that it has the potential to bring CERN millions of francs in licensing contracts in the next decade. And two, that it is not ready for public disclosure because it is still hazardous technology. Considering these two facts, I would prefer strangers not poke around inside his lab and either steal his work or kill themselves in the process and hold CERN liable. Do I make myself clear?”
Vittoria stared, saying nothing. Langdon sensed in her a reluctant respect and acceptance of Kohler’s logic.
“Before we report anything to the authorities,” Kohler said, “I need to know what you two were working on. I need you to take us to your lab.”
“The lab is irrelevant,” Vittoria said. “Nobody knew what my father and I were doing. The experiment could not possibly have anything to do with my father’s murder.”
Kohler exhaled a raspy, ailing breath. “Evidence suggests otherwise.”
“Evidence? What evidence?”
Langdon was wondering the same thing.
Kohler was dabbing his mouth again. “You’ll just have to trust me.”
It was clear, from Vittoria’s smoldering gaze, that she did not.