“It won’t work,” Vittoria said, pacing the Pope’s office. She looked up at the camerlegno. “Even if a Swiss Guard team can filter electronic interference, they will have to be practically on top of the canister before they detect any signal. And that’s if the canister is even accessible . . . unenclosed by other barriers. What if it’s buried in a metal box somewhere on your grounds? Or up in a metal ventilating duct. There’s no way they’ll trace it. And what if the Swiss Guards have been infiltrated? Who’s to say the search will be clean?”
The camerlegno looked drained. “What are you proposing, Ms. Vetra?”
Vittoria felt flustered. Isn’t it obvious? “I am proposing, sir, that you take other precautions immediately. We can hope against all hope that the commander’s search is successful. At the same time, look out the window. Do you see those people? Those buildings across the piazza? Those media vans? The tourists? They are quite possibly within range of the blast. You need to act now.”
The camerlegno nodded vacantly.
Vittoria felt frustrated. Olivetti had convinced everyone there was plenty of time. But Vittoria knew if news of the Vatican predicament leaked out, the entire area could fill with onlookers in a matter of minutes. She had seen it once outside the Swiss Parliament building. During a hostage situation involving a bomb, thousands had congregated outside the building to witness the outcome. Despite police warnings that they were in danger, the crowd packed in closer and closer. Nothing captured human interest like human tragedy.
“Signore,” Vittoria urged, “the man who killed my father is out there somewhere. Every cell in this body wants to run from here and hunt him down. But I am standing in your office . . . because I have a responsibility to you. To you and others. Lives are in danger, signore. Do you hear me?”
The camerlegno did not answer.
Vittoria could hear her own heart racing. Why couldn’t the Swiss Guard trace that damn caller? The Illuminati assassin is the key! He knows where the antimatter is . . . hell, he knows where the cardinals are! Catch the killer, and everything is solved.
Vittoria sensed she was starting to come unhinged, an alien distress she recalled only faintly from childhood, the orphanage years, frustration with no tools to handle it. You have tools, she told herself, you always have tools. But it was no use. Her thoughts intruded, strangling her. She was a researcher and problem solver. But this was a problem with no solution. What data do you require? What do you want? She told herself to breathe deeply, but for the first time in her life, she could not. She was suffocating.
Langdon’s head ached, and he felt like he was skirting the edges of rationality. He watched Vittoria and the camerlegno, but his vision was blurred by hideous images: explosions, press swarming, cameras rolling, four branded humans.
Shaitan . . . Lucifer . . . Bringer of light . . . Satan . . .
He shook the fiendish images from his mind. Calculated terrorism, he reminded himself, grasping at reality. Planned chaos. He thought back to a Radcliffe seminar he had once audited while researching praetorian symbolism. He had never seen terrorists the same way since.
“Terrorism,” the professor had lectured, “has a singular goal. What is it?”
“Killing innocent people?” a student ventured.
“Incorrect. Death is only a byproduct of terrorism.”
“A show of strength?”
“No. A weaker persuasion does not exist.”
“To cause terror?”
“Concisely put. Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear. Fear undermines faith in the establishment. It weakens the enemy from within . . . causing unrest in the masses. Write this down. Terrorism is not an expression of rage. Terrorism is a political weapon. Remove a government’s façade of infallibility, and you remove its people’s faith.”
Loss of faith . . .
Is that what this was all about? Langdon wondered how Christians of the world would react to cardinals being laid out like mutilated dogs. If the faith of a canonized priest did not protect him from the evils of Satan, what hope was there for the rest of us? Langdon’s head was pounding louder now . . . tiny voices playing tug of war.
Faith does not protect you. Medicine and airbags . . . those are things that protect you. God does not protect you. Intelligence protects you. Enlightenment. Put your faith in something with tangible results. How long has it been since someone walked on water? Modern miracles belong to science . . . computers, vaccines, space stations . . . even the divine miracle of creation. Matter from nothing . . . in a lab. Who needs God? No! Science is God.
The killer’s voice resonated in Langdon’s mind. Midnight . . . mathematical progression of death . . . sacrifici vergini nell’ altare di scienza.”
Then suddenly, like a crowd dispersed by a single gunshot, the voices were gone.
Robert Langdon bolted to his feet. His chair fell backward and crashed on the marble floor.
Vittoria and the camerlegno jumped.
“I missed it,” Langdon whispered, spellbound. “It was right in front of me . . .”
“Missed what?” Vittoria demanded.
Langdon turned to the priest. “Father, for three years I have petitioned this office for access to the Vatican Archives. I have been denied seven times.”
“Mr. Langdon, I am sorry, but this hardly seems the moment to raise such complaints.”
“I need access immediately. The four missing cardinals. I may be able to figure out where they’re going to be killed.”
Vittoria stared, looking certain she had misunderstood.
The camerlegno looked troubled, as if he were the brunt of a cruel joke. “You expect me to believe this information is in our archives ?”
“I can’t promise I can locate it in time, but if you let me in . . .”
“Mr. Langdon, I am due in the Sistine Chapel in four minutes. The archives are across Vatican City.”
“You’re serious aren’t you?” Vittoria interrupted, staring deep into Langdon’s eyes, seeming to sense his earnestness.
“Hardly a joking time,” Langdon said.
“Father,” Vittoria said, turning to the camerlegno, “if there’s a chance . . . any at all of finding where these killings are going to happen, we could stake out the locations and—”
“But the archives?” the camerlegno insisted. “How could they possibly contain any clue?”
“Explaining it,” Langdon said, “will take longer than you’ve got. But if I’m right, we can use the information to catch the Hassassin.”
The camerlegno looked as though he wanted to believe but somehow could not. “Christianity’s most sacred codices are in that archive. Treasures I myself am not privileged enough to see.”
“I am aware of that.”
“Access is permitted only by written decree of the curator and the Board of Vatican Librarians.”
“Or,” Langdon declared, “by papal mandate. It says so in every rejection letter your curator ever sent me.”
The camerlegno nodded.
“Not to be rude,” Langdon urged, “but if I’m not mistaken a papal mandate comes from this office. As far as I can tell, tonight you hold the trust of his station. Considering the circumstances . . .”
The camerlegno pulled a pocket watch from his cassock and looked at it. “Mr. Langdon, I am prepared to give my life tonight, quite literally, to save this church.”
Langdon sensed nothing but truth in the man’s eyes.
“This document,” the camerlegno said, “do you truly believe it is here? And that it can help us locate these four churches?”
“I would not have made countless solicitations for access if I were not convinced. Italy is a bit far to come on a lark when you make a teacher’s salary. The document you have is an ancient—”
“Please,” the camerlegno interrupted. “Forgive me. My mind cannot process any more details at the moment. Do you know where the secret archives are located?”
Langdon felt a rush of excitement. “Just behind the Santa Ana Gate.”
“Impressive. Most scholars believe it is through the secret door behind St. Peter’s Throne.”
“No. That would be the Archivio della Reverenda di Fabbrica di S. Pietro. A common misconception.”
“A librarian docent accompanies every entrant at all times. Tonight, the docents are gone. What you are requesting is carte blanche access. Not even our cardinals enter alone.”
“I will treat your treasures with the utmost respect and care. Your librarians will find not a trace that I was there.”
Overhead the bells of St. Peter’s began to toll. The camerlegno checked his pocket watch. “I must go.” He paused a taut moment and looked up at Langdon. “I will have a Swiss Guard meet you at the archives. I am giving you my trust, Mr. Langdon. Go now.”
Langdon was speechless.
The young priest now seemed to possess an eerie poise. Reaching over, he squeezed Langdon’s shoulder with surprising strength. “I want you to find what you are looking for. And find it quickly.”