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The Swiss Guard “staging room” is located adjacent to the Corpo di Vigilanza barracks and is used primarily for planning the security surrounding papal appearances and public Vatican events. Today, however, it was being used for something else.

The man addressing the assembled task force was the second‑in‑command of the Swiss Guard, Captain Elias Rocher. Rocher was a barrel‑chested man with soft, puttylike features. He wore the traditional blue captain’s uniform with his own personal flair—a red beret cocked sideways on his head. His voice was surprisingly crystalline for such a large man, and when he spoke, his tone had the clarity of a musical instrument. Despite the precision of his inflection, Rocher’s eyes were cloudy like those of some nocturnal mammal. His men called him “orso”—grizzly bear. They sometimes joked that Rocher was “the bear who walked in the viper’s shadow.” Commander Olivetti was the viper. Rocher was just as deadly as the viper, but at least you could see him coming.

Rocher’s men stood at sharp attention, nobody moving a muscle, although the information they had just received had increased their aggregate blood pressure by a few thousand points.

Rookie Lieutenant Chartrand stood in the back of the room wishing he had been among the 99 percent of applicants who had not qualified to be here. At twenty years old, Chartrand was the youngest guard on the force. He had been in Vatican City only three months. Like every man there, Chartrand was Swiss Army trained and had endured two years of additional ausbilding in Bern before qualifying for the grueling Vatican pròva held in a secret barracks outside of Rome. Nothing in his training, however, had prepared him for a crisis like this.

At first Chartrand thought the briefing was some sort of bizarre training exercise. Futuristic weapons? Ancient cults? Kidnapped cardinals? Then Rocher had shown them the live video feed of the weapon in question. Apparently this was no exercise.

“We will be killing power in selected areas,” Rocher was saying, “to eradicate extraneous magnetic interference. We will move in teams of four. We will wear infrared goggles for vision. Reconnaissance will be done with traditional bug sweepers, recalibrated for sub‑three‑ohm flux fields. Any questions?”


Chartrand’s mind was on overload. “What if we don’t find it in time?” he asked, immediately wishing he had not.

The grizzly bear gazed out at him from beneath his red beret. Then he dismissed the group with a somber salute. “Godspeed, men.”