“Is this true ?” the camerlegno demanded, looking amazed as he turned from Vittoria to Olivetti.
“Signore,” Olivetti assured, “I’ll admit there is some sort of device here. It is visible on one of our security monitors, but as for Ms. Vetra’s claims as to the power of this substance, I cannot possibly—”
“Wait a minute,” the camerlegno said. “You can see this thing?”
“Yes, signore. On wireless camera #86.”
“Then why haven’t you recovered it?” The camerlegno’s voice echoed anger now.
“Very difficult, signore.” Olivetti stood straight as he explained the situation.
The camerlegno listened, and Vittoria sensed his growing concern. “Are you certain it is inside Vatican City?” the camerlegno asked. “Maybe someone took the camera out and is transmitting from somewhere else.”
“Impossible,” Olivetti said. “Our external walls are shielded electronically to protect our internal communications. This signal can only be coming from the inside or we would not be receiving it.”
“And I assume,” he said, “that you are now looking for this missing camera with all available resources?”
Olivetti shook his head. “No, signore. Locating that camera could take hundreds of man hours. We have a number of other security concerns at the moment, and with all due respect to Ms. Vetra, this droplet she talks about is very small. It could not possibly be as explosive as she claims.”
Vittoria’s patience evaporated. “That droplet is enough to level Vatican City! Did you even listen to a word I told you?”
“Ma’am,” Olivetti said, his voice like steel, “my experience with explosives is extensive.”
“Your experience is obsolete,” she fired back, equally tough. “Despite my attire, which I realize you find troublesome, I am a senior level physicist at the world’s most advanced subatomic research facility. I personally designed the antimatter trap that is keeping that sample from annihilating right now. And I am warning you that unless you find that canister in the next six hours, your guards will have nothing to protect for the next century but a big hole in the ground.”
Olivetti wheeled to the camerlegno, his insect eyes flashing rage. “Signore, I cannot in good conscience allow this to go any further. Your time is being wasted by pranksters. The Illuminati? A droplet that will destroy us all?”
“Basta,” the camerlegno declared. He spoke the word quietly and yet it seemed to echo across the chamber. Then there was silence. He continued in a whisper. “Dangerous or not, Illuminati or no Illuminati, whatever this thing is, it most certainly should not be inside Vatican City . . . no less on the eve of the conclave. I want it found and removed. Organize a search immediately.”
Olivetti persisted. “Signore, even if we used all the guards to search the complex, it could take days to find this camera. Also, after speaking to Ms. Vetra, I had one of my guards consult our most advanced ballistics guide for any mention of this substance called antimatter. I found no mention of it anywhere. Nothing.”
Pompous ass, Vittoria thought. A ballistics guide? Did you try an encyclopedia? Under A!
Olivetti was still talking. “Signore, if you are suggesting we make a naked‑eye search of the entirety of Vatican City then I must object.”
“Commander.” The camerlegno’s voice simmered with rage. “May I remind you that when you address me, you are addressing this office. I realize you do not take my position seriously—nonetheless, by law, I am in charge. If I am not mistaken, the cardinals are now safely within the Sistine Chapel, and your security concerns are at a minimum until the conclave breaks. I do not understand why you are hesitant to look for this device. If I did not know better it would appear that you are causing this conclave intentional danger.”
Olivetti looked scornful. “How dare you! I have served your Pope for twelve years! And the Pope before that for fourteen years! Since 1438 the Swiss Guard have—”
The walkie‑talkie on Olivetti’s belt squawked loudly, cutting him off. “Comandante? “
Olivetti snatched it up and pressed the transmitter. “Sto ocupato! Cosa voi!”
“Scusi,” the Swiss Guard on the radio said. “Communications here. I thought you would want to be informed that we have received a bomb threat.”
Olivetti could not have looked less interested. “So handle it! Run the usual trace, and write it up.”
“We did, sir, but the caller . . .” The guard paused. “I would not trouble you, commander, except that he mentioned the substance you just asked me to research. Antimatter.”
Everyone in the room exchanged stunned looks.
“He mentioned what ?” Olivetti stammered.
“Antimatter, sir. While we were trying to run a trace, I did some additional research on his claim. The information on antimatter is . . . well, frankly, it’s quite troubling.”
“I thought you said the ballistics guide showed no mention of it.”
“I found it on‑line.”
Alleluia, Vittoria thought.
“The substance appears to be quite explosive,” the guard said. “It’s hard to imagine this information is accurate but it says here that pound for pound antimatter carries about a hundred times more payload than a nuclear warhead.”
Olivetti slumped. It was like watching a mountain crumble. Vittoria’s feeling of triumph was erased by the look of horror on the camerlegno’s face.
“Did you trace the call?” Olivetti stammered.
“No luck. Cellular with heavy encryption. The SAT lines are interfused, so triangulation is out. The IF signature suggests he’s somewhere in Rome, but there’s really no way to trace him.”
“Did he make demands?” Olivetti said, his voice quiet.
“No, sir. Just warned us that there is antimatter hidden inside the complex. He seemed surprised I didn’t know. Asked me if I’d seen it yet. You’d asked me about antimatter, so I decided to advise you.”
“You did the right thing,” Olivetti said. “I’ll be down in a minute. Alert me immediately if he calls back.”
There was a moment of silence on the walkie‑talkie. “The caller is still on the line, sir.”
Olivetti looked like he’d just been electrocuted. “The line is open?”
“Yes, sir. We’ve been trying to trace him for ten minutes, getting nothing but splayed ferreting. He must know we can’t touch him because he refuses to hang up until he speaks to the camerlegno.”
“Patch him through,” the camerlegno commanded. “Now!”
Olivetti wheeled. “Father, no. A trained Swiss Guard negotiator is much better suited to handle this.”
Olivetti gave the order.
A moment later, the phone on Camerlegno Ventresca’s desk began to ring. The camerlegno rammed his finger down on the speaker‑phone button. “Who in the name of God do you think you are?”