“Vittoria, I will not allow it!” Kohler’s breath was labored and getting worse as the Haz-Mat elevator ascended.
Vittoria blocked him out. She craved sanctuary, something familiar in this place that no longer felt like home. She knew it was not to be. Right now, she had to swallow the pain and act. Get to a phone.
Robert Langdon was beside her, silent as usual. Vittoria had given up wondering who the man was. A specialist? Could Kohler be any less specific? Mr. Langdon can help us find your father’s killer. Langdon was being no help at all. His warmth and kindness seemed genuine, but he was clearly hiding something. They both were.
Kohler was at her again. “As director of CERN, I have a responsibility to the future of science. If you amplify this into an international incident and CERN suffers—”
“Future of science?” Vittoria turned on him. “Do you really plan to escape accountability by never admitting this antimatter came from CERN? Do you plan to ignore the people’s lives we’ve put in danger?”
“Not we,” Kohler countered. “You. You and your father.”
Vittoria looked away.
“And as far as endangering lives,” Kohler said, “life is exactly what this is about. You know antimatter technology has enormous implications for life on this planet. If CERN goes bankrupt, destroyed by scandal, everybody loses. Man’s future is in the hands of places like CERN, scientists like you and your father, working to solve tomorrow’s problems.”
Vittoria had heard Kohler’s Science-as-God lecture before, and she never bought it. Science itself caused half the problems it was trying to solve. “Progress” was Mother Earth’s ultimate malignancy.
“Scientific advancement carries risk,” Kohler argued. “It always has. Space programs, genetic research, medicine—they all make mistakes. Science needs to survive its own blunders, at any cost. For everyone’s sake.”
Vittoria was amazed at Kohler’s ability to weigh moral issues with scientific detachment. His intellect seemed to be the product of an icy divorce from his inner spirit. “You think CERN is so critical to the earth’s future that we should be immune from moral responsibility?”
“Do not argue morals with me. You crossed a line when you made that specimen, and you have put this entire facility at risk. I’m trying to protect not only the jobs of the three thousand scientists who work here, but also your father’s reputation. Think about him. A man like your father does not deserve to be remembered as the creator of a weapon of mass destruction.”
Vittoria felt his spear hit home. I am the one who convinced my father to create that specimen. This is my fault!
When the door opened, Kohler was still talking. Vittoria stepped out of the elevator, pulled out her phone, and tried again.
Still no dial tone. Damn! She headed for the door.
“Vittoria, stop.” The director sounded asthmatic now, as he accelerated after her. “Slow down. We need to talk.”
“Basta di parlare!”
“Think of your father,” Kohler urged. “What would he do?”
She kept going.
“Vittoria, I haven’t been totally honest with you.”
Vittoria felt her legs slow.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Kohler said. “I was just trying to protect you. Just tell me what you want. We need to work together here.”
Vittoria came to a full stop halfway across the lab, but she did not turn. “I want to find the antimatter. And I want to know who killed my father.” She waited.
Kohler sighed. “Vittoria, we already know who killed your father. I’m sorry.”
Now Vittoria turned. “You what?”
“I didn’t know how to tell you. It’s a difficult—”
“You know who killed my father?”
“We have a very good idea, yes. The killer left somewhat of a calling card. That’s the reason I called Mr. Langdon. The group claiming responsibility is his specialty.”
“The group? A terrorist group?”
“Vittoria, they stole a quarter gram of antimatter.”
Vittoria looked at Robert Langdon standing there across the room. Everything began falling into place. That explains some of the secrecy. She was amazed it hadn’t occurred to her earlier. Kohler had called the authorities after all. The authorities. Now it seemed obvious. Robert Langdon was American, clean-cut, conservative, obviously very sharp. Who else could it be? Vittoria should have guessed from the start. She felt a newfound hope as she turned to him.
“Mr. Langdon, I want to know who killed my father. And I want to know if your agency can find the antimatter.”
Langdon looked flustered. “My agency?”
“You’re with U.S. Intelligence, I assume.”
Kohler intervened. “Mr. Langdon is a professor of art history at Harvard University.”
Vittoria felt like she had been doused with ice water. “An art teacher?”
“He is a specialist in cult symbology.” Kohler sighed. “Vittoria, we believe your father was killed by a satanic cult.”
Vittoria heard the words in her mind, but she was unable to process them. A satanic cult.
“The group claiming responsibility calls themselves the Illuminati.”
Vittoria looked at Kohler and then at Langdon, wondering if this was some kind of perverse joke. “The Illuminati?” she demanded. “As in the Bavarian Illuminati?”
Kohler looked stunned. “You’ve heard of them?”
Vittoria felt the tears of frustration welling right below the surface. “Bavarian Illuminati: New World Order. Steve Jackson computer games. Half the techies here play it on the Internet.” Her voice cracked. “But I don’t understand…”
Kohler shot Langdon a confused look.
Langdon nodded. “Popular game. Ancient brotherhood takes over the world. Semihistorical. I didn’t know it was in Europe too.”
Vittoria was bewildered. “What are you talking about? The Illuminati? It’s a computer game!”
“Vittoria,” Kohler said, “the Illuminati is the group claiming responsibility for your father’s death.”
Vittoria mustered every bit of courage she could find to fight the tears. She forced herself to hold on and assess the situation logically. But the harder she focused, the less she understood. Her father had been murdered. CERN had suffered a major breach of security. There was a bomb counting down somewhere that she was responsible for. And the director had nominated an art teacher to help them find a mythical fraternity of Satanists.
Vittoria felt suddenly all alone. She turned to go, but Kohler cut her off. He reached for something in his pocket. He produced a crumpled piece of fax paper and handed it to her.
Vittoria swayed in horror as her eyes hit the image.
“They branded him,” Kohler said. “They branded his goddamn chest.”