Angels Demons Chapter 121-125



The camerlegno erupted through the doors of St. Peter's Basilica at exactly 11:56 P.M. He staggered into the dazzling glare of the world spotlight, carrying the antimatter before him like some sort of numinous offering. Through burning eyes he could see his own form, half-naked and wounded, towering like a giant on the media screens around the square. The roar that went up from the crowd in St. Peter's Square was like none the camerlegno had ever heard - crying, screaming, chanting, praying... a mix of veneration and terror.

Deliver us from evil, he whispered.

He felt totally depleted from his race out of the Necropolis. It had almost ended in disaster. Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra had wanted to intercept him, to throw the canister back into its subterranean hiding place, to run outside for cover. Blind fools!

The camerlegno realized now, with fearful clarity, that on any other night, he would never have won the race. Tonight, however, God again had been with him. Robert Langdon, on the verge of overtaking the camerlegno, had been grabbed by Chartrand, ever trusting and dutiful to the camerlegno's demands for faith. The reporters, of course, were spellbound and lugging too much equipment to interfere.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

The camerlegno could hear the others behind him now... see them on the screens, closing in. Mustering the last of his physical strength, he raised the antimatter high over his head. Then, throwing back his bare shoulders in an act of defiance to the Illuminati brand on his chest, he dashed down the stairs.

There was one final act.

Godspeed, he thought. Godspeed.

Four minutes...

Langdon could barely see as he burst out of the basilica. Again the sea of media lights bore into his retinas. All he could make out was the murky outline of the camerlegno, directly ahead of him, running down the stairs. For an instant, refulgent in his halo of media lights, the camerlegno looked celestial, like some kind of modern deity. His cassock was at his waist like a shroud. His body was scarred and wounded by the hands of his enemies, and still he endured. The camerlegno ran on, standing tall, calling out to the world to have faith, running toward the masses carrying this weapon of destruction.

Langdon ran down the stairs after him. What is he doing? He will kill them all!

"Satan's work," the camerlegno screamed, "has no place in the House of God!" He ran on toward a now terrified crowd.

"Father!" Langdon screamed, behind him. "There's nowhere to go!"

"Look to the heavens! We forget to look to the heavens!"

In that moment, as Langdon saw where the camerlegno was headed, the glorious truth came flooding all around him. Although Langdon could not see it on account of the lights, he knew their salvation was directly overhead.

A star-filled Italian sky. The escape route.

The helicopter the camerlegno had summoned to take him to the hospital sat dead ahead, pilot already in the cockpit, blades already humming in neutral. As the camerlegno ran toward it, Langdon felt a sudden overwhelming exhilaration.

The thoughts that tore through Langdon's mind came as a torrent...

First he pictured the wide-open expanse of the Mediterranean Sea. How far was it? Five miles? Ten? He knew the beach at Fiumocino was only about seven minutes by train. But by helicopter, 200 miles an hour, no stops... If they could fly the canister far enough out to sea, and drop it... There were other options too, he realized, feeling almost weightless as he ran. La Cava Romana! The marble quarries north of the city were less than three miles away. How large were they? Two square miles? Certainly they were deserted at this hour! Dropping the canister there...

"Everyone back!" the camerlegno yelled. His chest ached as he ran. "Get away! Now!"

The Swiss Guard standing around the chopper stood slack-jawed as the camerlegno approached them.

"Back!" the priest screamed.

The guards moved back.

With the entire world watching in wonder, the camerlegno ran around the chopper to the pilot's door and yanked it open. "Out, son! Now!"

The guard jumped out.

The camerlegno looked at the high cockpit seat and knew that in his exhausted state, he would need both hands to pull himself up. He turned to the pilot, trembling beside him, and thrust the canister into his hands. "Hold this. Hand it back when I'm in."

As the camerlegno pulled himself up, he could hear Robert Langdon yelling excitedly, running toward the craft. Now you understand, the camerlegno thought. Now you have faith!

The camerlegno pulled himself up into the cockpit, adjusted a few familiar levers, and then turned back to his window for the canister.

But the guard to whom he had given the canister stood empty-handed. "He took it!" the guard yelled.

The camerlegno felt his heart seize. "Who!"

The guard pointed. "Him!"

Robert Langdon was surprised by how heavy the canister was. He ran to the other side of the chopper and jumped in the rear compartment where he and Vittoria had sat only hours ago. He left the door open and buckled himself in. Then he yelled to the camerlegno in the front seat.

"Fly, Father!"

The camerlegno craned back at Langdon, his face bloodless with dread. "What are you doing!"

"You fly! I'll throw!" Langdon barked. "There's no time! Just fly the blessed chopper!"

The camerlegno seemed momentarily paralyzed, the media lights glaring through the cockpit darkening the creases in his face. "I can do this alone," he whispered. "I am supposed to do this alone."

Langdon wasn't listening. Fly! he heard himself screaming. Now! I'm here to help you! Langdon looked down at the canister and felt his breath catch in his throat when he saw the numbers. "Three minutes, Father! Three!"

The number seemed to stun the camerlegno back to sobriety. Without hesitation, he turned back to the controls. With a grinding roar, the helicopter lifted off.

Through a swirl of dust, Langdon could see Vittoria running toward the chopper. Their eyes met, and then she dropped away like a sinking stone.


Inside the chopper, the whine of the engines and the gale from the open door assaulted Langdon's senses with a deafening chaos. He steadied himself against the magnified drag of gravity as the camerlegno accelerated the craft straight up. The glow of St. Peter's Square shrank beneath them until it was an amorphous glowing ellipse radiating in a sea of city lights.

The antimatter canister felt like deadweight in Langdon's hands. He held tighter, his palms slick now with sweat and blood. Inside the trap, the globule of antimatter hovered calmly, pulsing red in the glow of the LED countdown clock.

"Two minutes!" Langdon yelled, wondering where the camerlegno intended to drop the canister.

The city lights beneath them spread out in all directions. In the distance to the west, Langdon could see the twinkling delineation of the Mediterranean coast - a jagged border of luminescence beyond which spread an endless dark expanse of nothingness. The sea looked farther now than Langdon had imagined. Moreover, the concentration of lights at the coast was a stark reminder that even far out at sea an explosion might have devastating effects. Langdon had not even considered the effects of a ten-kiloton tidal wave hitting the coast.

When Langdon turned and looked straight ahead through the cockpit window, he was more hopeful. Directly in front of them, the rolling shadows of the Roman foothills loomed in the night. The hills were spotted with lights - the villas of the very wealthy - but a mile or so north, the hills grew dark. There were no lights at all - just a huge pocket of blackness. Nothing.

The quarries! Langdon thought. La Cava Romana!

Staring intently at the barren pocket of land, Langdon sensed that it was plenty large enough. It seemed close, too. Much closer than the ocean. Excitement surged through him. This was obviously where the camerlegno planned to take the antimatter! The chopper was pointing directly toward it! The quarries! Oddly, however, as the engines strained louder and the chopper hurtled through the air, Langdon could see that the quarries were not getting any closer. Bewildered, he shot a glance out the side door to get his bearings. What he saw doused his excitement in a wave of panic. Directly beneath them, thousands of feet straight down, glowed the media lights in St. Peter's Square.

We're still over the Vatican!

"Camerlegno!" Langdon choked. "Go forward! We're high enough! You've got to start moving forward! We can't drop the canister back over Vatican City!"

The camerlegno did not reply. He appeared to be concentrating on flying the craft.

"We've got less than two minutes!" Langdon shouted, holding up the canister. "I can see them! La Cava Romana! A couple of miles north! We don't have - "

"No," the camerlegno said. "It's far too dangerous. I'm sorry." As the chopper continued to claw heavenward, the camerlegno turned and gave Langdon a mournful smile. "I wish you had not come, my friend. You have made the ultimate sacrifice."

Langdon looked in the camerlegno's exhausted eyes and suddenly understood. His blood turned to ice. "But... there must be somewhere we can go!"

"Up," the camerlegno replied, his voice resigned. "It's the only guarantee."

Langdon could barely think. He had entirely misinterpreted the camerlegno's plan. Look to the heavens!

Heaven, Langdon now realized, was literally where he was headed. The camerlegno had never intended to drop the antimatter. He was simply getting it as far away from Vatican City as humanly possible.

This was a one-way trip.


In St. Peter's Square, Vittoria Vetra stared upward. The helicopter was a speck now, the media lights no longer reaching it. Even the pounding of the rotors had faded to a distant hum. It seemed, in that instant, that the entire world was focused upward, silenced in anticipation, necks craned to the heavens... all peoples, all faiths... all hearts beating as one.

Vittoria's emotions were a cyclone of twisting agonies. As the helicopter disappeared from sight, she pictured Robert's face, rising above her. What had he been thinking? Didn't he understand?

Around the square, television cameras probed the darkness, waiting. A sea of faces stared heavenward, united in a silent countdown. The media screens all flickered the same tranquil scene... a Roman sky illuminated with brilliant stars. Vittoria felt the tears begin to well.

Behind her on the marble escarpment, 161 cardinals stared up in silent awe. Some folded their hands in prayer. Most stood motionless, transfixed. Some wept. The seconds ticked past.

In homes, bars, businesses, airports, hospitals around the world, souls were joined in universal witness. Men and women locked hands. Others held their children. Time seemed to hover in limbo, souls suspended in unison.

Then, cruelly, the bells of St. Peter's began to toll.

Vittoria let the tears come.

Then... with the whole world watching... time ran out.

The dead silence of the event was the most terrifying of all.

High above Vatican City, a pinpoint of light appeared in the sky. For a fleeting instant, a new heavenly body had been born... a speck of light as pure and white as anyone had ever seen.

Then it happened.

A flash. The point billowed, as if feeding on itself, unraveling across the sky in a dilating radius of blinding white. It shot out in all directions, accelerating with incomprehensible speed, gobbling up the dark. As the sphere of light grew, it intensified, like a burgeoning fiend preparing to consume the entire sky. It raced downward, toward them, picking up speed.

Blinded, the multitudes of starkly lit human faces gasped as one, shielding their eyes, crying out in strangled fear.

As the light roared out in all directions, the unimaginable occurred. As if bound by God's own will, the surging radius seemed to hit a wall. It was as if the explosion were contained somehow in a giant glass sphere. The light rebounded inward, sharpening, rippling across itself. The wave appeared to have reached a predetermined diameter and hovered there. For that instant, a perfect and silent sphere of light glowed over Rome. Night had become day.

Then it hit.

The concussion was deep and hollow - a thunderous shock wave from above. It descended on them like the wrath of hell, shaking the granite foundation of Vatican City, knocking the breath out of people's lungs, sending others stumbling backward. The reverberation circled the colonnade, followed by a sudden torrent of warm air. The wind tore through the square, letting out a sepulchral moan as it whistled through the columns and buffeted the walls. Dust swirled overhead as people huddled... witnesses to Armageddon.

Then, as fast as it appeared, the sphere imploded, sucking back in on itself, crushing inward to the tiny point of light from which it had come.


Never before had so many been so silent.

The faces in St. Peter's Square, one by one, averted their eyes from the darkening sky and turned downward, each person in his or her own private moment of wonder. The media lights followed suit, dropping their beams back to earth as if out of reverence for the blackness now settling upon them. It seemed for a moment the entire world was bowing its head in unison.

Cardinal Mortati knelt to pray, and the other cardinals joined him. The Swiss Guard lowered their long swords and stood numb. No one spoke. No one moved. Everywhere, hearts shuddered with spontaneous emotion. Bereavement. Fear. Wonder. Belief. And a dread-filled respect for the new and awesome power they had just witnessed.

Vittoria Vetra stood trembling at the foot of the basilica's sweeping stairs. She closed her eyes. Through the tempest of emotions now coursing through her blood, a single word tolled like a distant bell. Pristine. Cruel. She forced it away. And yet the word echoed. Again she drove it back. The pain was too great. She tried to lose herself in the images that blazed in other's minds... antimatter's mind-boggling power... the Vatican's deliverance... the camerlegno... feats of bravery... miracles... selflessness. And still the word echoed... tolling through the chaos with a stinging loneliness.


He had come for her at Castle St. Angelo.

He had saved her.

And now he had been destroyed by her creation.

As Cardinal Mortati prayed, he wondered if he too would hear God's voice as the camerlegno had. Does one need to believe in miracles to experience them? Mortati was a modern man in an ancient faith. Miracles had never played a part in his belief. Certainly his faith spoke of miracles... bleeding palms, ascensions from the dead, imprints on shrouds... and yet, Mortati's rational mind had always justified these accounts as part of the myth. They were simply the result of man's greatest weakness - his need for proof. Miracles were nothing but stories we all clung to because we wished they were true.

And yet...

Am I so modern that I cannot accept what my eyes have just witnessed? It was a miracle, was it not? Yes! God, with a few whispered words in the camerlegno's ear, had intervened and saved this church. Why was this so hard to believe? What would it say about God if God had done nothing? That the Almighty did not care? That He was powerless to stop it? A miracle was the only possible response!

As Mortati knelt in wonder, he prayed for the camerlegno's soul. He gave thanks to the young chamberlain who, even in his youthful years, had opened this old man's eyes to the miracles of unquestioning faith.

Incredibly, though, Mortati never suspected the extent to which his faith was about to be tested...

The silence of St. Peter's Square broke with a ripple at first. The ripple grew to a murmur. And then, suddenly, to a roar. Without warning, the multitudes were crying out as one.

"Look! Look!"

Mortati opened his eyes and turned to the crowd. Everyone was pointing behind him, toward the front of St. Peter's Basilica. Their faces were white. Some fell to their knees. Some fainted. Some burst into uncontrollable sobs.

"Look! Look!"

Mortati turned, bewildered, following their outstretched hands. They were pointing to the uppermost level of the basilica, the rooftop terrace, where huge statues of Christ and his apostles watched over the crowd.

There, on the right of Jesus, arms outstretched to the world... stood Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca.


Robert Langdon was no longer falling.

There was no more terror. No pain. Not even the sound of the racing wind. There was only the soft sound of lapping water, as though he were comfortably asleep on a beach.

In a paradox of self-awareness, Langdon sensed this was death. He felt glad for it. He allowed the drifting numbness to possess him entirely. He let it carry him wherever it was he would go. His pain and fear had been anesthetized, and he did not wish it back at any price. His final memory had been one that could only have been conjured in hell.

Take me. Please...

But the lapping that lulled in him a far-off sense of peace was also pulling him back. It was trying to awaken him from a dream. No! Let me be! He did not want to awaken. He sensed demons gathering on the perimeter of his bliss, pounding to shatter his rapture. Fuzzy images swirled. Voices yelled. Wind churned. No, please! The more he fought, the more the fury filtered through.

Then, harshly, he was living it all again...

The helicopter was in a dizzying dead climb. He was trapped inside. Beyond the open door, the lights of Rome looked farther away with every passing second. His survival instinct told him to jettison the canister right now. Langdon knew it would take less than twenty seconds for the canister to fall half a mile. But it would be falling toward a city of people.

Higher! Higher!

Langdon wondered how high they were now. Small prop planes, he knew, flew at altitudes of about four miles. This helicopter had to be at a good fraction of that by now. Two miles up? Three? There was still a chance. If they timed the drop perfectly, the canister would fall only partway toward earth, exploding a safe distance over the ground and away from the chopper. Langdon looked out at the city sprawling below them.

"And if you calculate incorrectly?" the camerlegno said.

Langdon turned, startled. The camerlegno was not even looking at him, apparently having read Langdon's thoughts from the ghostly reflection in the windshield. Oddly, the camerlegno was no longer engrossed in his controls. His hands were not even on the throttle. The chopper, it seemed, was now in some sort of autopilot mode, locked in a climb. The camerlegno reached above his head, to the ceiling of the cockpit, fishing behind a cable-housing, where he removed a key, taped there out of view.

Langdon watched in bewilderment as the camerlegno quickly unlocked the metal cargo box bolted between the seats. He removed some sort of large, black, nylon pack. He lay it on the seat next to him. Langdon's thoughts churned. The camerlegno's movements seemed composed, as if he had a solution.

"Give me the canister," the camerlegno said, his tone serene.

Langdon did not know what to think anymore. He thrust the canister to the camerlegno. "Ninety seconds!"

What the camerlegno did with the antimatter took Langdon totally by surprise. Holding the canister carefully in his hands, the camerlegno placed it inside the cargo box. Then he closed the heavy lid and used the key to lock it tight.

"What are you doing!" Langdon demanded.

"Leading us from temptation." The camerlegno threw the key out the open window.

As the key tumbled into the night, Langdon felt his soul falling with it.

The camerlegno then took the nylon pack and slipped his arms through the straps. He fastened a waist clamp around his stomach and cinched it all down like a backpack. He turned to a dumbstruck Robert Langdon.

"I'm sorry," the camerlegno said. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way." Then he opened his door and hurled himself into the night.

The image burned in Langdon's unconscious mind, and with it came the pain. Real pain. Physical pain. Aching. Searing. He begged to be taken, to let it end, but as the water lapped louder in his ears, new images began to flash. His hell had only just begun. He saw bits and pieces. Scattered frames of sheer panic. He lay halfway between death and nightmare, begging for deliverance, but the pictures grew brighter in his mind.

The antimatter canister was locked out of reach. It counted relentlessly downward as the chopper shot upward. Fifty seconds. Higher. Higher. Langdon spun wildly in the cabin, trying to make sense of what he had just seen. Forty-five seconds. He dug under seats searching for another parachute. Forty seconds. There was none! There had to be an option! Thirty-five seconds. He raced to the open doorway of the chopper and stood in the raging wind, gazing down at the lights of Rome below. Thirty-two seconds.

And then he made the choice.

The unbelievable choice...

With no parachute, Robert Langdon had jumped out the door. As the night swallowed his tumbling body, the helicopter seemed to rocket off above him, the sound of its rotors evaporating in the deafening rush of his own free fall.

As he plummeted toward earth, Robert Langdon felt something he had not experienced since his years on the high dive - the inexorable pull of gravity during a dead drop. The faster he fell, the harder the earth seemed to pull, sucking him down. This time, however, the drop was not fifty feet into a pool. The drop was thousands of feet into a city - an endless expanse of pavement and concrete.

Somewhere in the torrent of wind and desperation, Kohler's voice echoed from the grave... words he had spoken earlier this morning standing at CERN's free-fall tube. One square yard of drag will slow a falling body almost twenty percent. Twenty percent, Langdon now realized, was not even close to what one would need to survive a fall like this. Nonetheless, more out of paralysis than hope, he clenched in his hands the sole object he had grabbed from the chopper on his way out the door. It was an odd memento, but it was one that for a fleeting instant had given him hope.

The windshield tarp had been lying in the back of the helicopter. It was a concave rectangle - about four yards by two - like a huge fitted sheet... the crudest approximation of a parachute imaginable. It had no harness, only bungie loops at either end for fastening it to the curvature of the windshield. Langdon had grabbed it, slid his hands through the loops, held on, and leapt out into the void.

His last great act of youthful defiance.

No illusions of life beyond this moment.

Langdon fell like a rock. Feet first. Arms raised. His hands gripping the loops. The tarp billowed like a mushroom overhead. The wind tore past him violently.

As he plummeted toward earth, there was a deep explosion somewhere above him. It seemed farther off than he had expected. Almost instantly, the shock wave hit. He felt the breath crushed from his lungs. There was a sudden warmth in the air all around him. He fought to hold on. A wall of heat raced down from above. The top of the tarp began to smolder... but held.

Langdon rocketed downward, on the edge of a billowing shroud of light, feeling like a surfer trying to outrun a thousand-foot tidal wave. Then suddenly, the heat receded.

He was falling again through the dark coolness.

For an instant, Langdon felt hope. A moment later, though, that hope faded like the withdrawing heat above. Despite his straining arms assuring him that the tarp was slowing his fall, the wind still tore past his body with deafening velocity. Langdon had no doubt he was still moving too fast to survive the fall. He would be crushed when he hit the ground.

Mathematical figures tumbled through his brain, but he was too numb to make sense of them... one square yard of drag... 20 percent reduction of speed. All Langdon could figure was that the tarp over his head was big enough to slow him more than 20 percent. Unfortunately, though, he could tell from the wind whipping past him that whatever good the tarp was doing was not enough. He was still falling fast... there would be no surviving the impact on the waiting sea of concrete.

Beneath him, the lights of Rome spread out in all directions. The city looked like an enormous starlit sky that Langdon was falling into. The perfect expanse of stars was marred only by a dark strip that split the city in two - a wide, unlit ribbon that wound through the dots of light like a fat snake. Langdon stared down at the meandering swatch of black.

Suddenly, like the surging crest of an unexpected wave, hope filled him again.

With almost maniacal vigor, Langdon yanked down hard with his right hand on the canopy. The tarp suddenly flapped louder, billowing, cutting right to find the path of least resistance. Langdon felt himself drifting sideways. He pulled again, harder, ignoring the pain in his palm. The tarp flared, and Langdon sensed his body sliding laterally. Not much. But some! He looked beneath him again, to the sinuous serpent of black. It was off to the right, but he was still pretty high. Had he waited too long? He pulled with all his might and accepted somehow that it was now in the hands of God. He focused hard on the widest part of the serpent and... for the first time in his life, prayed for a miracle.

The rest was a blur.

The darkness rushing up beneath him... the diving instincts coming back... the reflexive locking of his spine and pointing of the toes... the inflating of his lungs to protect his vital organs... the flexing of his legs into a battering ram... and finally... the thankfulness that the winding Tiber River was raging... making its waters frothy and air-filled... and three times softer than standing water.

Then there was impact... and blackness.

It had been the thundering sound of the flapping canopy that drew the group's eyes away from the fireball in the sky. The sky above Rome had been filled with sights tonight... a skyrocketing helicopter, an enormous explosion, and now this strange object that had plummeted into the churning waters of the Tiber River, directly off the shore of the river's tiny island, Isola Tiberina.

Ever since the island had been used to quarantine the sick during the Roman plague of A.D. 1656, it had been thought to have mystic healing properties. For this reason, the island had later become the site for Rome's Hospital Tiberina.

The body was battered when they pulled it onto shore. The man still had a faint pulse, which was amazing, they thought. They wondered if it was Isola Tiberina's mythical reputation for healing that had somehow kept his heart pumping. Minutes later, when the man began coughing and slowly regained consciousness, the group decided the island must indeed be magical.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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