No light. No sound.
The Secret Archives were black.
Fear, Langdon now realized, was an intense motivator. Short of breath, he fumbled through the blackness toward the revolving door. He found the button on the wall and rammed his palm against it. Nothing happened. He tried again. The door was dead.
Spinning blind, he called out, but his voice emerged strangled. The peril of his predicament suddenly closed in around him. His lungs strained for oxygen as the adrenaline doubled his heart rate. He felt like someone had just punched him in the gut.
When he threw his weight into the door, for an instant he thought he felt the door start to turn. He pushed again, seeing stars. Now he realized it was the entire room turning, not the door. Staggering away, Langdon tripped over the base of a rolling ladder and fell hard. He tore his knee against the edge of a book stack. Swearing, he got up and groped for the ladder.
He found it. He had hoped it would be heavy wood or iron, but it was aluminum. He grabbed the ladder and held it like a battering ram. Then he ran through the dark at the glass wall. It was closer than he thought. The ladder hit head‑on, bouncing off. From the feeble sound of the collision, Langdon knew he was going to need a hell of a lot more than an aluminum ladder to break this glass.
When he flashed on the semiautomatic, his hopes surged and then instantly fell. The weapon was gone. Olivetti had relieved him of it in the Pope’s office, saying he did not want loaded weapons around with the camerlegno present. It made sense at the time.
Langdon called out again, making less sound than the last time.
Next he remembered the walkie‑talkie the guard had left on the table outside the vault. Why the hell didn’t I bring it in! As the purple stars began to dance before his eyes, Langdon forced himself to think. You’ve been trapped before, he told himself. You survived worse. You were just a kid and you figured it out. The crushing darkness came flooding in. Think!
Langdon lowered himself onto the floor. He rolled over on his back and laid his hands at his sides. The first step was to gain control.
No longer fighting gravity to pump blood, Langdon’s heart began to slow. It was a trick swimmers used to re‑oxygenate their blood between tightly scheduled races.
There is plenty of air in here, he told himself. Plenty. Now think. He waited, half‑expecting the lights to come back on at any moment. They did not. As he lay there, able to breathe better now, an eerie resignation came across him. He felt peaceful. He fought it.
You will move, damn it! But where . . .
On Langdon’s wrist, Mickey Mouse glowed happily as if enjoying the dark: 9:33 P.M. Half an hour until Fire. Langdon thought it felt a whole hell of a lot later. His mind, instead of coming up with a plan for escape, was suddenly demanding an explanation. Who turned off the power? Was Rocher expanding his search? Wouldn’t Olivetti have warned Rocher that I’m in here! Langdon knew at this point it made no difference.
Opening his mouth wide and tipping back his head, Langdon pulled the deepest breaths he could manage. Each breath burned a little less than the last. His head cleared. He reeled his thoughts in and forced the gears into motion.
Glass walls, he told himself. But damn thick glass.
He wondered if any of the books in here were stored in heavy, steel, fireproof file cabinets. Langdon had seen them from time to time in other archives but had seen none here. Besides, finding one in the dark could prove time‑consuming. Not that he could lift one anyway, particularly in his present state.
How about the examination table? Langdon knew this vault, like the other, had an examination table in the center of the stacks. So what? He knew he couldn’t lift it. Not to mention, even if he could drag it, he wouldn’t get it far. The stacks were closely packed, the aisles between them far too narrow.
The aisles are too narrow . . .
Suddenly, Langdon knew.
With a burst of confidence, he jumped to his feet far too fast. Swaying in the fog of a head rush, he reached out in the dark for support. His hand found a stack. Waiting a moment, he forced himself to conserve. He would need all of his strength to do this.
Positioning himself against the book stack like a football player against a training sled, he planted his feet and pushed. If I can somehow tip the shelf. But it barely moved. He realigned and pushed again. His feet slipped backward on the floor. The stack creaked but did not move.
He needed leverage.
Finding the glass wall again, he placed one hand on it to guide him as he raced in the dark toward the far end of the vault. The back wall loomed suddenly, and he collided with it, crushing his shoulder. Cursing, Langdon circled the shelf and grabbed the stack at about eye level. Then, propping one leg on the glass behind him and another on the lower shelves, he started to climb. Books fell around him, fluttering into the darkness. He didn’t care. Instinct for survival had long since overridden archival decorum. He sensed his equilibrium was hampered by the total darkness and closed his eyes, coaxing his brain to ignore visual input. He moved faster now. The air felt leaner the higher he went. He scrambled toward the upper shelves, stepping on books, trying to gain purchase, heaving himself upward. Then, like a rock climber conquering a rock face, Langdon grasped the top shelf. Stretching his legs out behind him, he walked his feet up the glass wall until he was almost horizontal.
Now or never, Robert, a voice urged. Just like the leg press in the Harvard gym.
With dizzying exertion, he planted his feet against the wall behind him, braced his arms and chest against the stack, and pushed. Nothing happened.
Fighting for air, he repositioned and tried again, extending his legs. Ever so slightly, the stack moved. He pushed again, and the stack rocked forward an inch or so and then back. Langdon took advantage of the motion, inhaling what felt like an oxygenless breath and heaving again. The shelf rocked farther.
Like a swing set, he told himself. Keep the rhythm. A little more.
Langdon rocked the shelf, extending his legs farther with each push. His quadriceps burned now, and he blocked the pain. The pendulum was in motion. Three more pushes, he urged himself.
It only took two.
There was an instant of weightless uncertainty. Then, with a thundering of books sliding off the shelves, Langdon and the shelf were falling forward.
Halfway to the ground, the shelf hit the stack next to it. Langdon hung on, throwing his weight forward, urging the second shelf to topple. There was a moment of motionless panic, and then, creaking under the weight, the second stack began to tip. Langdon was falling again.
Like enormous dominoes, the stacks began to topple, one after another. Metal on metal, books tumbling everywhere. Langdon held on as his inclined stack bounced downward like a ratchet on a jack. He wondered how many stacks there were in all. How much would they weigh? The glass at the far end was thick . . .
Langdon’s stack had fallen almost to the horizontal when he heard what he was waiting for—a different kind of collision. Far off. At the end of the vault. The sharp smack of metal on glass. The vault around him shook, and Langdon knew the final stack, weighted down by the others, had hit the glass hard. The sound that followed was the most unwelcome sound Langdon had ever heard.
There was no crashing of glass, only the resounding thud as the wall accepted the weight of the stacks now propped against it. He lay wide‑eyed on the pile of books. Somewhere in the distance there was a creaking. Langdon would have held his breath to listen, but he had none left to hold.
One second. Two . . .
Then, as he teetered on the brink of unconsciousness, Langdon heard a distant yielding . . . a ripple spidering outward through the glass. Suddenly, like a cannon, the glass exploded. The stack beneath Langdon collapsed to the floor.
Like welcome rain on a desert, shards of glass tinkled downward in the dark. With a great sucking hiss, the air gushed in.
Thirty seconds later, in the Vatican Grottoes, Vittoria was standing before a corpse when the electronic squawk of a walkie‑talkie broke the silence. The voice blaring out sounded short of breath. “This is Robert Langdon! Can anyone hear me?”
Vittoria looked up. Robert ! She could not believe how much she suddenly wished he were there.
The guards exchanged puzzled looks. One took a radio off his belt. “Mr. Langdon? You are on channel three. The commander is waiting to hear from you on channel one.”
“I know he’s on channel one, damn it! I don’t want to speak to him. I want the camerlegno. Now! Somebody find him for me.”
In the obscurity of the Secret Archives, Langdon stood amidst shattered glass and tried to catch his breath. He felt a warm liquid on his left hand and knew he was bleeding. The camerlegno’s voice spoke at once, startling Langdon.
“This is Camerlegno Ventresca. What’s going on?”
Langdon pressed the button, his heart still pounding. “I think somebody just tried to kill me!”
There was a silence on the line.
Langdon tried to calm himself. “I also know where the next killing is going to be.”
The voice that came back was not the camerlegno’s. It was Commander Olivetti’s: “Mr. Langdon. Do not speak another word.”