Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

30

Maximilian Kohler. Kindly call your office immediately.”

Blazing sunbeams flooded Langdon’s eyes as the elevator doors opened into the main atrium. Before the echo of the announcement on the intercom overhead faded, every electronic device on Kohler’s wheelchair started beeping and buzzing simultaneously. His pager. His phone. His E‑mail. Kohler glanced down at the blinking lights in apparent bewilderment. The director had resurfaced, and he was back in range.

Director Kohler. Please call your office.”

The sound of his name on the PA seemed to startle Kohler.

He glanced up, looking angered and then almost immediately concerned. Langdon’s eyes met his, and Vittoria’s too. The three of them were motionless a moment, as if all the tension between them had been erased and replaced by a single, unifying foreboding.

Kohler took his cell phone from the armrest. He dialed an extension and fought off another coughing fit. Vittoria and Langdon waited.

“This is . . . Director Kohler,” he said, wheezing. “Yes? I was subterranean, out of range.” He listened, his gray eyes widening. “Who? Yes, patch it through.” There was a pause. “Hello? This is Maximilian Kohler. I am the director of CERN. With whom am I speaking?”

Vittoria and Langdon watched in silence as Kohler listened.

“It would be unwise,” Kohler finally said, “to speak of this by phone. I will be there immediately.” He was coughing again. “Meet me . . . at Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Forty minutes.” Kohler’s breath seemed to be failing him now. He descended into a fit of coughing and barely managed to choke out the words, “Locate the canister immediately . . . I am coming.” Then he clicked off his phone.

Vittoria ran to Kohler’s side, but Kohler could no longer speak. Langdon watched as Vittoria pulled out her cell phone and paged CERN’s infirmary. Langdon felt like a ship on the periphery of a storm . . . tossed but detached.

Meet me at Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Kohler’s words echoed.

The uncertain shadows that had fogged Langdon’s mind all morning, in a single instant, solidified into a vivid image. As he stood there in the swirl of confusion, he felt a door inside him open . . . as if some mystic threshold had just been breached. The ambigram. The murdered priest/scientist. The antimatter. And now . . . the target. Leonardo da Vinci Airport could only mean one thing. In a moment of stark realization, Langdon knew he had just crossed over. He had become a believer.

Five kilotons. Let there be light.

Two paramedics materialized, racing across the atrium in white smocks. They knelt by Kohler, putting an oxygen mask on his face. Scientists in the hall stopped and stood back.

Kohler took two long pulls, pushed the mask aside, and still gasping for air, looked up at Vittoria and Langdon. “Rome.”

“Rome?” Vittoria demanded. “The antimatter is in Rome? Who called?”

Kohler’s face was twisted, his gray eyes watering. “The Swiss . . .” He choked on the words, and the paramedics put the mask back over his face. As they prepared to take him away, Kohler reached up and grabbed Langdon’s arm.

Langdon nodded. He knew.

“Go . . .” Kohler wheezed beneath his mask. “Go . . . call me . . .” Then the paramedics were rolling him away.

Vittoria stood riveted to the floor, watching him go. Then she turned to Langdon. “Rome? But . . . what was that about the Swiss ?”

Langdon put a hand on her shoulder, barely whispering the words. “The Swiss Guard,” he said. “The sworn sentinels of Vatican City.”