The X‑33 space plane roared into the sky and arched south toward Rome. On board, Langdon sat in silence. The last fifteen minutes had been a blur. Now that he had finished briefing Vittoria on the Illuminati and their covenant against the Vatican, the scope of this situation was starting to sink in.
What the hell am I doing? Langdon wondered. I should have gone home when I had the chance! Deep down, though, he knew he’d never had the chance.
Langdon’s better judgment had screamed at him to return to Boston. Nonetheless, academic astonishment had somehow vetoed prudence. Everything he had ever believed about the demise of the Illuminati was suddenly looking like a brilliant sham. Part of him craved proof. Confirmation. There was also a question of conscience. With Kohler ailing and Vittoria on her own, Langdon knew that if his knowledge of the Illuminati could assist in any way, he had a moral obligation to be here.
There was more, though. Although Langdon was ashamed to admit it, his initial horror on hearing about the antimatter’s location was not only the danger to human life in Vatican City, but for something else as well.
The world’s largest art collection was now sitting on a time bomb. The Vatican Museum housed over 60,000 priceless pieces in 1,407 rooms—Michelangelo, da Vinci, Bernini, Botticelli. Langdon wondered if all of the art could possibly be evacuated if necessary. He knew it was impossible. Many of the pieces were sculptures weighing tons. Not to mention, the greatest treasures were architectural—the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo’s famed spiral staircase leading to the Musèo Vaticano —priceless testaments to man’s creative genius. Langdon wondered how much time was left on the canister.
“Thanks for coming,” Vittoria said, her voice quiet.
Langdon emerged from his daydream and looked up. Vittoria was sitting across the aisle. Even in the stark fluorescent light of the cabin, there was an aura of composure about her—an almost magnetic radiance of wholeness. Her breathing seemed deeper now, as if a spark of self‑preservation had ignited within her . . . a craving for justice and retribution, fueled by a daughter’s love.
Vittoria had not had time to change from her shorts and sleeveless top, and her tawny legs were now goose‑bumped in the cold of the plane. Instinctively Langdon removed his jacket and offered it to her.
“American chivalry?” She accepted, her eyes thanking him silently.
The plane jostled across some turbulence, and Langdon felt a surge of danger. The windowless cabin felt cramped again, and he tried to imagine himself in an open field. The notion, he realized, was ironic. He had been in an open field when it had happened. Crushing darkness. He pushed the memory from his mind. Ancient history.
Vittoria was watching him. “Do you believe in God, Mr. Langdon?”
The question startled him. The earnestness in Vittoria’s voice was even more disarming than the inquiry. Do I believe in God? He had hoped for a lighter topic of conversation to pass the trip.
A spiritual conundrum, Langdon thought. That’s what my friends call me. Although he studied religion for years, Langdon was not a religious man. He respected the power of faith, the benevolence of churches, the strength religion gave to many people . . . and yet, for him, the intellectual suspension of disbelief that was imperative if one were truly going to “believe” had always proved too big an obstacle for his academic mind. “I want to believe,” he heard himself say.
Vittoria’s reply carried no judgment or challenge. “So why don’t you?”
He chuckled. “Well, it’s not that easy. Having faith requires leaps of faith, cerebral acceptance of miracles—immaculate conceptions and divine interventions. And then there are the codes of conduct. The Bible, the Koran, Buddhist scripture . . . they all carry similar requirements—and similar penalties. They claim that if I don’t live by a specific code I will go to hell. I can’t imagine a God who would rule that way.”
“I hope you don’t let your students dodge questions that shamelessly.”
The comment caught him off guard. “What?”
“Mr. Langdon, I did not ask if you believe what man says about God. I asked if you believed in God. There is a difference. Holy scripture is stories . . . legends and history of man’s quest to understand his own need for meaning. I am not asking you to pass judgment on literature. I am asking if you believe in God. When you lie out under the stars, do you sense the divine? Do you feel in your gut that you are staring up at the work of God’s hand?”
Langdon took a long moment to consider it.
“I’m prying,” Vittoria apologized.
“No, I just . . .”
“Certainly you must debate issues of faith with your classes.”
“And you play devil’s advocate, I imagine. Always fueling the debate.”
Langdon smiled. “You must be a teacher too.”
“No, but I learned from a master. My father could argue two sides of a Möbius Strip.”
Langdon laughed, picturing the artful crafting of a Möbius Strip—a twisted ring of paper, which technically possessed only one side. Langdon had first seen the single‑sided shape in the artwork of M. C. Escher. “May I ask you a question, Ms. Vetra?”
“Call me Vittoria. Ms. Vetra makes me feel old.”
He sighed inwardly, suddenly sensing his own age. “Vittoria, I’m Robert.”
“You had a question.”
“Yes. As a scientist and the daughter of a Catholic priest, what do you think of religion?”
Vittoria paused, brushing a lock of hair from her eyes. “Religion is like language or dress. We gravitate toward the practices with which we were raised. In the end, though, we are all proclaiming the same thing. That life has meaning. That we are grateful for the power that created us.”
Langdon was intrigued. “So you’re saying that whether you are a Christian or a Muslim simply depends on where you were born?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Look at the diffusion of religion around the globe.”
“So faith is random?”
“Hardly. Faith is universal. Our specific methods for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some of us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.”
Langdon wished his students could express themselves so clearly. Hell, he wished he could express himself so clearly. “And God?” he asked. “Do you believe in God?”
Vittoria was silent for a long time. “Science tells me God must exist. My mind tells me I will never understand God. And my heart tells me I am not meant to.”
How’s that for concise, he thought. “So you believe God is fact, but we will never understand Him.”
“Her,” she said with a smile. “Your Native Americans had it right.”
Langdon chuckled. “Mother Earth.”
“Gaea. The planet is an organism. All of us are cells with different purposes. And yet we are intertwined. Serving each other. Serving the whole.”
Looking at her, Langdon felt something stir within him that he had not felt in a long time. There was a bewitching clarity in her eyes . . . a purity in her voice. He felt drawn.
“Mr. Langdon, let me ask you another question.”
“Robert,” he said. Mr. Langdon makes me feel old. I am old!
“If you don’t mind my asking, Robert, how did you get involved with the Illuminati?”
Langdon thought back. “Actually, it was money.”
Vittoria looked disappointed. “Money? Consulting, you mean?”
Langdon laughed, realizing how it must have sounded. “No. Money as in currency.” He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out some money. He found a one‑dollar bill. “I became fascinated with the cult when I first learned that U.S. currency is covered with Illuminati symbology.”
Vittoria’s eyes narrowed, apparently not knowing whether or not to take him seriously.
Langdon handed her the bill. “Look at the back. See the Great Seal on the left?”
Vittoria turned the one‑dollar bill over. “You mean the pyramid?”
“The pyramid. Do you know what pyramids have to do with U.S. history?”
“Exactly,” Langdon said. “Absolutely nothing.”
Vittoria frowned. “So why is it the central symbol of your Great Seal?”
“An eerie bit of history,” Langdon said. “The pyramid is an occult symbol representing a convergence upward, toward the ultimate source of Illumination. See what’s above it?”
Vittoria studied the bill. “An eye inside a triangle.”
“It’s called the trinacria. Have you ever seen that eye in a triangle anywhere else?”
Vittoria was silent a moment. “Actually, yes, but I’m not sure . . .”
“It’s emblazoned on Masonic lodges around the world.”
“The symbol is Masonic?”
“Actually, no. It’s Illuminati. They called it their ’shining delta.’ A call for enlightened change. The eye signifies the Illuminati’s ability to infiltrate and watch all things. The shining triangle represents enlightenment. And the triangle is also the Greek letter delta, which is the mathematical symbol for—”
Langdon smiled. “I forgot I was talking to a scientist.”
“So you’re saying the U.S. Great Seal is a call for enlightened, all‑seeing change?”
“Some would call it a New World Order.”
Vittoria seemed startled. She glanced down at the bill again. “The writing under the pyramid says Novus . . . Ordo . . .”
“Novus Ordo Seculorum,” Langdon said. “It means New Secular Order.”
“Secular as in non religious?”
“Nonreligious. The phrase not only clearly states the Illuminati objective, but it also blatantly contradicts the phrase beside it. In God We Trust.”
Vittoria seemed troubled. “But how could all this symbology end up on the most powerful currency in the world?”
“Most academics believe it was through Vice President Henry Wallace. He was an upper echelon Mason and certainly had ties to the Illuminati. Whether it was as a member or innocently under their influence, nobody knows. But it was Wallace who sold the design of the Great Seal to the president.”
“How? Why would the president have agreed to—”
“The president was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wallace simply told him Novus Ordo Seculorum meant New Deal.”
Vittoria seemed skeptical. “And Roosevelt didn’t have anyone else look at the symbol before telling the Treasury to print it?”
“No need. He and Wallace were like brothers.”
“Check your history books,” Langdon said with a smile. “Franklin D. Roosevelt was a well‑known Mason.”