Robert Langdon stood outside Archive Vault 9 and read the labels on the stacks.
Brahe . . . Clavius . . . Copernicus . . . Kepler . . . Newton . . .
As he read the names again, he felt a sudden uneasiness. Here are the scientists . . . but where is Galileo?
He turned to Vittoria, who was checking the contents of a nearby vault. “I found the right theme, but Galileo’s missing.”
“No he isn’t,” she said, frowning as she motioned to the next vault. “He’s over here. But I hope you brought your reading glasses, because this entire vault is his.”
Langdon ran over. Vittoria was right. Every indictor tab in Vault 10 carried the same keyword.
Il Proceso Galileano
Langdon let out a low whistle, now realizing why Galileo had his own vault. “The Galileo Affair,” he marveled, peering through the glass at the dark outlines of the stacks. “The longest and most expensive legal proceeding in Vatican history. Fourteen years and six hundred million lire. It’s all here.”
“Have a few legal documents.”
“I guess lawyers haven’t evolved much over the centuries.”
“Neither have sharks.”
Langdon strode to a large yellow button on the side of the vault. He pressed it, and a bank of overhead lights hummed on inside. The lights were deep red, turning the cube into a glowing crimson cell . . . a maze of towering shelves.
“My God,” Vittoria said, looking spooked. “Are we tanning or working?”
“Parchment and vellum fades, so vault lighting is always done with dark lights.”
“You could go mad in here.”
Or worse, Langdon thought, moving toward the vault’s sole entrance. “A quick word of warning. Oxygen is an oxidant, so hermetic vaults contain very little of it. It’s a partial vacuum inside. Your breathing will feel strained.”
“Hey, if old cardinals can survive it.”
True, Langdon thought. May we be as lucky.
The vault entrance was a single electronic revolving door. Langdon noted the common arrangement of four access buttons on the door’s inner shaft, one accessible from each compartment. When a button was pressed, the motorized door would kick into gear and make the conventional half rotation before grinding to a halt—a standard procedure to preserve the integrity of the inner atmosphere.
“After I’m in,” Langdon said, “just press the button and follow me through. There’s only eight percent humidity inside, so be prepared to feel some dry mouth.”
Langdon stepped into the rotating compartment and pressed the button. The door buzzed loudly and began to rotate. As he followed its motion, Langdon prepared his body for the physical shock that always accompanied the first few seconds in a hermetic vault. Entering a sealed archive was like going from sea level to 20,000 feet in an instant. Nausea and light‑headedness were not uncommon. Double vision, double over, he reminded himself, quoting the archivist’s mantra. Langdon felt his ears pop. There was a hiss of air, and the door spun to a stop.
He was in.
Langdon’s first realization was that the air inside was thinner than he had anticipated. The Vatican, it seemed, took their archives a bit more seriously than most. Langdon fought the gag reflex and relaxed his chest while his pulmonary capillaries dilated. The tightness passed quickly. Enter the Dolphin, he mused, gratified his fifty laps a day were good for something. Breathing more normally now, he looked around the vault. Despite the transparent outer walls, he felt a familiar anxiety. I’m in a box, he thought. A blood red box.
The door buzzed behind him, and Langdon turned to watch Vittoria enter. When she arrived inside, her eyes immediately began watering, and she started breathing heavily.
“Give it a minute,” Langdon said. “If you get light‑headed, bend over.”
“I . . . feel . . .” Vittoria choked, “like I’m . . . scuba diving . . . with the wrong . . . mixture.”
Langdon waited for her to acclimatize. He knew she would be fine. Vittoria Vetra was obviously in terrific shape, nothing like the doddering ancient Radcliffe alumnae Langdon had once squired through Widener Library’s hermetic vault. The tour had ended with Langdon giving mouth‑to‑mouth to an old woman who’d almost aspirated her false teeth.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“I rode your damn space plane, so I thought I owed you.”
This brought a smile. “Touché.”
Langdon reached into the box beside the door and extracted some white cotton gloves.
“Formal affair?” Vittoria asked.
“Finger acid. We can’t handle the documents without them. You’ll need a pair.”
Vittoria donned some gloves. “How long do we have?”
Langdon checked his Mickey Mouse watch. “It’s just past seven.”
“We have to find this thing within the hour.”
“Actually,” Langdon said, “we don’t have that kind of time.” He pointed overhead to a filtered duct. “Normally the curator would turn on a reoxygenation system when someone is inside the vault. Not today. Twenty minutes, we’ll both be sucking wind.”
Vittoria blanched noticeably in the reddish glow.
Langdon smiled and smoothed his gloves. “Substantiate or suffocate, Ms. Vetra. Mickey’s ticking.”