Apocalypsis - The Message - Mario Giordano - E-Book

Apocalypsis - The Message E-Book

Mario Giordano

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Beschreibung

Two parallel, almost identical worlds. One corresponds to the year 2011, the other world exists two years later in 2013. One world is on the verge of destruction; the other is unaware of the pending apocalypse. 2011: When Franz Laurenz watches Edward Kelly's death on live television, he immediately flies back to Rome. He must save humanity from damnation. 2013: College professor Peter Adam has apocalyptic visions. When his wife and young daughter die in a plane crash, Peter learns their deaths are connected to the occult. He realizes too late that he is the key to everything. That he has long-since unleashed the evil. And that only he can stop the end of the world. About the Series Written by award-winning screenwriter and author Mario Giordano, "Apocalypsis" is gripping and explosive: what starts out as a sophisticated Vatican conspiracy soon develops into a uniquely intense and spectacular thriller. APOCALYPSIS is a serial novel told in twelve installments per book. The entire saga is revealed throughout three complete novels; this is the complete third novel. About the Author Mario Giordano was born 1963 in Munich, studied psychology in Düsseldorf and writes novels for adults old and young as well as screenplays (his credits include Tatort, Schimanski, Polizeiruf 110, Das Experiment). He lives in Berlin.

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About the Book

Two parallel, almost identical worlds. One corresponds to the year 2011, the other world exists two years later in 2013. One world is on the verge of destruction; the other is unaware of the pending apocalypse.

2011: When Franz Laurenz watches Edward Kelly's death on live television, he immediately flies back to Rome. He must save humanity from damnation.

2013: College professor Peter Adam has apocalyptic visions. When his wife and young daughter die in a plane crash, Peter learns their deaths are connected to the occult. He realizes too late that he is the key to everything. That he has long-since unleashed the evil. And that only he can stop the end of the world.

About the Series

Written by award-winning screenwriter and author Mario Giordano, “Apocalypsis” is gripping and explosive: what starts out as a sophisticated Vatican conspiracy soon develops into a uniquely intense and spectacular thriller.

APOCALYPSIS is a serial novel told in twelve installments per book. The entire saga is revealed throughout three complete novels; this is the complete third novel.

About the Author

Mario Giordano was born 1963 in Munich, studied psychology in Düsseldorf and writes novels for adults old and young as well as screenplays (his credits include Tatort, Schimanski, Polizeiruf 110, Das Experiment). He lives in Berlin.

BOOK 3THE MESSAGE

»be« by BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

Digital original edition

»be« by Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

Copyright for the German edition © 2013 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Cologne, Germany

Copyright for the English edition © 2014 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Cologne, Germany

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. This book was translated from the German into U.S. American English.

Written by Mario Giordano, Cologne

Translated by Peter Millar, London

English version edited by Charlotte Rylan, London

Cover design: Massimo Peter-Bille

Cover illustrations: © shutterstock: ZRyzner | agsandrew | Peangdao | michelangeloop

Artwork: © Dino Franke, Hajo Müller

E-Book-Production: Dörlemann Satz, Lemförde

ISBN 978-3-7325-0250-9

All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole, or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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CONTENTS

Episode 1    ♦  THE END

Episode 2    ♦  POINT NEMO

Episode 3    ♦  THE PLAN

Episode 4    ♦  MAYA

Episode 5    ♦  CLEOPHAS

Episode 6    ♦  TESSERACT

Episode 7    ♦  CHANGE

Episode 8    ♦  ORISHAS

Episode 9    ♦  THE ARK

Episode 10  ♦  THE PURE PLACES

Episode 11  ♦  THE MESSAGE

Episode 12  ♦  HAR-MAGEDON

I

July 17, 2011, Jerusalem

This was the end. No doubt about it. The prophecy of Malachy had been fulfilled. This was the end of the papacy, the end of the Roman Catholic Church, and maybe the end of all of Christendom. At any event it was the end of the current world order. This dire certainty, dark and definitive as the deepest ocean, was reinforced with every shot the pope fired at his private secretary.

On St. Peter’s Square. Before the eyes of the whole world.

Each shot widened the rift that tore the world asunder. The only question that remained was whether this meant that the apocalypse had been averted or was about to occur.

Whatever was about to happen, Franz Laurenz neither turned his head nor covered his face with his hands as his daughter Maria did. Instead, he simply stared at the giant screen and watched as Edward Kelly’s head exploded, his blood gushing across the stage and over the tailored robes of the deacons. This man, who had lived for centuries as the incarnation of evil, Satan’s right hand, died there and then before the eyes of Franz Laurenz, while the pope calmly laid the smoking gun on the altar. Laurenz felt ill. There was something obscene, blasphemous about the whole scene. He heard himself utter a dull groan, caused by an inner pain that would never subside.

But he couldn’t turn his eyes away. He watched as a wave of panic washed over the deacons, the priests, the choirboys, spreading out from the pope to the thousands of believers crowded into St. Peter’s Square. He heard them scream as if with a single voice, echoed by the millions around the world watching on television. The Italian commentator’s voice failed him as two officers of the Swiss Guard grabbed the pope and forced him to the ground.

Only then did Franz Laurenz turn away. None of those in the bunker-like communications headquarters made any sound. None of them screamed. They just sat there watching what was happening and hardly daring to believe it. A few minutes earlier Laurenz had asked Yoko Tanaka to put the live feed from the papal mass up on the monitor screen. He had been curious to know what message the pope had for the faithful around the world after his long silence. After the fateful events on Oak Island he had even expected a personal message for himself. He had been ready for anything. Except murder.

Standing next to him, Maria too now pulled herself away from the screen. She turned towards him and said, “Tell me this isn’t happening, Papa.” Her voice was little more than a frightened whisper. But Laurenz had no answer. He had no idea what was going on.

“Turn on CNN,” he called out. “Check every news channel you can find.”

Yoko Tanaka relayed the order to her staff. The big screen flickered, then split into dozens of smaller screens and within seconds was showing broadcasts from news channels all around the world. All were showing the same image: The pope being led away by the two Swiss Guards and two Vatican gendarmes. Laurenz recognized Colonel Res Steiner, the guards’ commander and successor to Urs Bühler. Steiner was trying to make his way to the pope but became caught up in a group of panicking nuns. Meanwhile, the pope had been hurriedly taken behind the stage. It looked mainly as if the gendarmes were trying to get the pope out of harm’s way, as if he had been the target rather than the perpetrator. What else could they do, thought Laurenz: They’d been trained to react this way. Nobody had prepared them for a scenario like this. Then he suddenly saw the pope turn around and go back to where Kelly lay, as if he wanted to be certain the man was dead.

“Put me through to the head office in Rome! Put me through to Steiner!” Laurenz shouted. But at that moment his mobile rang. A call from Israel.

“Yes,” he barked into it.

“It’s Kaplan. I assume you saw it?” The voice of the chief rabbi of Jerusalem was tense but surprisingly calm.

“Yes.”

“Was it real or fake?”

“What sort of question is that?”

The rabbi was silent for a second or two, then said, “Well, to be honest, I’ve been asking myself if you had anything to do with it. Don’t get me wrong, but you’ve been out of contact for several days. Then all of a sudden a whole island in Nova Scotia explodes, and you send me a young woman with an amulet, who then almost immediately gets herself killed. A few days later you turn up in Jerusalem but immediately hole up in a bunker belonging to your friend Nakashima. And now we have this assassination, or whatever you want to call it, which changes everything in the world. Don’t you see that this might make me a bit suspicious? It wouldn’t be the first time in history that a pope has tried for world domination. So, Laurenz, you will have to excuse me if I ask you: Are we still allies in the fight to preserve our world religions? And I’m including Islam in that.”

Laurenz hesitated only a second. He was still watching live images from St. Peter’s. The faithful were in an uproar. Some broadcasters were showing close-ups of people in a state of utmost distress: nuns in shock, young people who’d had seizures and collapsed, thousands fleeing the square in panic as gendarmes and Swiss Guards attempted to seal off the scene of the crime.

“I may not have been open enough with you of late,” Laurenz said. “I apologize, but right now I have to ask you to trust me. I can’t get through this without your support and that of Mecca.”

He heard the rabbi breathe a sigh of relief: “Very well. Keep in touch and take care of yourself, my friend. May God watch over you.”

Laurenz put his phone back in his pocket, somewhat calmer, and composed himself. It was only now that he noticed how quiet it was in the command center. Somebody had muted the television broadcasts. The only sound was the hissing of the air-conditioning. Maria, Yoko Tanaka, Father Anselmo and the other staff just stood silently watching him. Suddenly Laurenz knew what he had to do: He had to be their leader. Whether he wanted to or not.

Nakashima’s Jerusalem headquarters was buried deep beneath a bank that belonged to his companies, completely safe from electronic eavesdropping. It consisted of a huge command center with bare concrete walls, diffuse lighting and a giant monitor screen that occupied one entire wall. Until just a half an hour ago it had been showing alternating views of Rome, Cologne, Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem, as well as satellite images and pictures transmitted from drones over Poveglia and the Île de Cuivre. A dozen specialist analysts headed up by Yoko Tanaka were filtering emails, tweets, telephone calls and text messages from all around the world. Leading off from the hub were sanitary facilities, a small canteen, a laboratory, a first aid station and a glass-walled conference room. There was also a private secret-service control room with high-tech equipment of its own, all just to detect any traces of Peter, Nicholas and the Bearers of the Light, as well as the amulet with the sign for copper that had vanished when Marina Bihari died. Nakashima himself was convalescing in a secret location after having been shot by Kelly on Oak Island. Laurenz hadn’t seen him since then.

But right now he wasn’t thinking about Nakashima. He was thinking about the pale young Jesuit standing next to Maria.

“Father Anselmo, get in touch with our people in the Vatican. We need to be sure that the man who died really was Kelly. Have you got hold of Colonel Steiner yet?”

“Negative, Master, but I’m still trying.” Father Anselmo used the title “Master” as automatically as any other member of the Order of the Holy Sword, proof that he now belonged to the centuries-old secret order within the church, an order descended from the Knights Templar with the goal of rediscovering their lost secret and preventing it from falling into the hands of the splinter group known as the “Bearers of the Light.”

“I need to get in touch with Nakashima-san,” Laurenz said, turning to Yoko Tanaka.

“I am afraid that …”

“Just try!” Laurenz interrupted her.

“Of course, right away.”

“What are you planning?” Maria asked.

“I’m trying to get an overview of the situation.”

He’d wanted to sound reasoned, but Laurenz could feel that he too was succumbing to shock. Maria evidently noticed it too, because without another word she came over, threw her arms around him and held him tightly as if she feared he might topple over. Laurenz could feel her bandaged left hand against his back. He returned her embrace, holding his daughter close and inhaling the scent of her hair.

“Forgive me,” he whispered, “for dragging you into all this, for not being a better father.”

“Shut up and hold me tight, Papa,” she whispered back to him. He did as she said and the moment felt like an eternity.

Then Yoko Tanaka’s voice brought the real world flooding back.

“Nakashima on the line for you, Herr Laurenz.”

He released Maria, kissing her on the forehead. “You have to find Shimon Kohn, that is the only thing we need you to do now.”

Laurenz considered for a moment whether to tell her what he had discovered in the documents and scraps of parchment that made up the Book of Dzyan. The ancient, self-contained work composed in a previously unknown alphabet now lay, fully translated, on his desk, along with the news about Peter Adam, whose death he himself had witnessed.

“He’s not dead, he’s alive,” Maria insisted. “The creature in the hole on Oak Island told me he was alive.”

Laurenz smiled at his daughter, stroked her hair as if she were a young child, and said, “Find Shimon Kohn, and you will find Peter.”

He turned around. The giant screen was dominated by the image of Satoshi Nakashima in a wheelchair, wearing plain grey pajamas. Laurenz could see he was in a room decorated in traditional Japanese style. The lighting suggested it was late evening. Laurenz figured the billionaire was back on the island of Kochinoerabu in the East China Sea.

“Herr Laurenz,” Nakashima began, speaking slowly and with difficulty; it appeared the bullet that had pierced his lungs was still making it hard to breathe. “I have just heard.”

“How are you, Mr. Nakashima?”

“I could be better. But thank you, I am in good hands. So, what do you suggest we do?”

“The first thing is to find out for sure if Kelly is dead. Our people are working on it, but we could do with help.”

Nakashima nodded. “Dr. Tanaka will arrange everything. And apart from that?”

Laurenz glanced at Maria. “I have to return to Rome.”

“That would be dangerous.”

“I have to try to save what can still be saved.”

“You mean you are happy about what has happened?”

“Good God, Nakashima, for the past half hour my church has been on the verge of total collapse. What on earth have I got to be happy about?”

Nakashima appeared to be considering that question.

“So what will happen now? Will the pope stand trial for murder? Will he be arrested?”

“It’s a very complicated situation, unique in the history of the papacy,” Laurenz replied. “There is simply no precedent. The Pope is head of the Vatican State and therefore has complete immunity. He is also the supreme head of the Vatican State judiciary. Given that the murder was committed on the territory of the Vatican State, he is solely responsible. You could say that he will have to stand in judgment over himself. But he cannot do that, because he has immunity before the law. For the case to come to trial, he would have to step down and hand himself over to the Italian authorities. That is the only possibility. But that in itself would be a legal nightmare.”

“Are you telling me that papal infallibility is an excuse for murder?”

“Obviously not. The doctrine of papal infallibility in any case only covers statements made by the pope ex cathedra, in an official context. It does not apply to the pope as an individual. As an individual he is as error-prone as any of us. But on the territory of the Vatican State he is absolute ruler. In fact, he is the world’s last absolute monarch, if you like. Even in the case of murder, unless he voluntarily relinquishes his office, he cannot be tried.”

“And if he declines to relinquish his office?”

Laurenz took a deep breath. “Then Seth has won!”

Nakashima was silent for a moment, but kept his eyes fixed on Laurenz, who had an inkling of what he was about to say.

“Do you recall my last suggestion, Laurenz?”

“Don’t even think of it. I cannot and will not take up the papacy again. Even if Pope Peter II were to resign, even if a new conclave chose me – if the pope, having abdicated and finding himself in Italian custody awaiting trial, changed his mind and come back …”

“You could do the same thing, Laurenz!”

“Then there would be a schism, the church would split. Your suggestion is mad. It’s not going to happen.”

“But any newly elected pope would face precisely the same problem that you have just described.”

Laurenz nodded. “And Pope Peter II knows it. He knows the Vatican. Obviously he planned this murder and knew what the result would be. The curia will put him under pressure, enormous pressure. But even if he did abdicate, he could not be sure his life would not be at risk. When it comes down to it, the Vatican isn’t particularly squeamish.”

“I hear what you’re saying; you are thinking of John Paul I, the 30-day pope. But would that be so terrible? Pope Peter II is an agent of Seth. He deserves to die. In fact, that might solve all our problems.”

Laurenz shook his head vehemently. “He used to be a friend of mine,” he insisted. “No matter what he has become, he was my friend, and he deserves the Grace of God. I have to go to Rome, precisely to save my friend’s life.”

“And what if it was all a sham? A trick designed to bring you back to Rome so they can kill you?”

Laurenz nodded again. He had been expecting that question. “That is why I wanted to talk to you,” he said.

II

Transcript of the Meeting with P.A. 20.08.2013

P.A. is 35 yrs., male, white, university-educated, athletic build, married, one child, German, but for the last 15 years has lived in the USA. No particular political beliefs, no psychological problems in the family, no regular medication. Appears calm and focused, expresses himself well, slightly fatigued during course of meeting. Complains of recent nightmares.

“Is it okay with you if I record our conversation, Peter?”

“Absolutely fine.”

“It’s just for my own records.”

“Not a problem, Dr. White.”

“Call me Bob. So … how long have you been having dreams like this?”

“A few weeks now … Bob.”

“What do you think might have caused their onset?”

“I have no idea. There was no particular incident, if that’s what you mean. They just started all of a sudden. But they are very realistic and nearly always the same.”

“Tell me about a typical dream.”

“I’m not really sure how to start. Everything is so confused. Well … I’m a journalist, in my dreams I mean, working for a German online news magazine, living in Rome. I’m reporting on the abdication of the pope …”

“You mean Benedict XVI, who abdicated last February?”

“No, not Ratzinger. The pope in my dreams is much younger, German admittedly, but his name is John Paul III. He abdicates and then vanishes without trace. I try to find him, but that’s when things start to go crazy …”

“Just tell me what happens, in your own words.”

“St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel are blown up.”

“A terrorist attack?”

“Yes. I’m running through some catacombs or other, defusing one bomb after another. They are all very small but give off an eerie blue light. Then I discover the last of them is embedded in my own hand, but then the pope who abdicated appears and severs my hand, apparently in an attempt to save my life.”

“So you’ve found the pope.”

“I must have, but don’t ask me how or when. And the pope has a daughter, called Maria, who’s helping me look for him.”

“I see, the pope has a daughter, does he?”

“Yes. In my dream, that is.”

“And this Maria, does she remind you of anyone in real life?”

“No. She’s nothing like Ellen. She’s a brunette, with green eyes. Oh, and she’s a nun.”

“Are you a Catholic, Peter?”

“I used to be. But I left the church when I was 24. I’m an atheist.”

“And yet you dream about the pope. A pope who has a daughter, who is a nun?”

“I know, I know. It’s absurd.”

“How long have you been married, Peter?”

“Thirteen years. And we’re still very happy together, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Have you had affairs?”

“Once, briefly. Eight years ago. But we got over that.”

“And in your dreams, do you sleep with this Maria?”

“Yes, but only once. At my parents’ house, that is, my adoptive parents’ house.”

“What happened to your biological parents, in your dreams?”

“An occult order murdered them, when I was a child. I discover that later. And it’s the same order that bombs the Vatican. They’re very powerful and they have a leader called Seth.”

“What else do you discover?”

“Seth has lots of names: Alister Crowley, Raymond Creutzfeldt. He wants to destroy the Vatican and institute a new world order, but in order to do so he has to uncover an ancient secret, the secret of the Knights Templar. He thinks the key lies in the Vatican.”

“And this is what you and Maria discover, is it?”

“Yes. It’s an amulet … ahhhh, goddammit.”

P.A. rubs his hands on his temples at this point.

“Are you okay, Peter? Have you got a headache?”

“I’m fine, thanks … I know this must all sound so crazy, so ridiculous …”

“Dreams are just dreams, Peter. No matter how crazy they seem to us, they often contain hidden meanings.”

“What sort of meaning could there be in dreams like these? Dreams that have nothing whatsoever to do with my ordinary, everyday life.”

“That’s what we’re going to try to find out. Please go on. You were talking about some amulet. Could you describe one?”

“Yes. I can see them quite clearly – there are more than one – they are really sort of talismans on what looks like a pearl chain made from some shimmering pale blue material. And each one has this little blue medallion hanging from it with a symbol on it, sometimes on one side, sometimes on both.”

“Could you describe, or even draw, some of these symbols for me?”

“Yes, I know them by heart.”

P.A. draws symbols.

“Do you know what they mean?”

“Some of them. I’ve done some research. This one, for example, is the alchemists’ sign for copper, but also stands for light. And that one is the alchemists’ sign for the philosopher’s stone. The others are letters from Enochian, allegedly the language of the angels, discovered by some English alchemist in the 16th century. In my dreams I can speak Enochian, and it’s the language used by the occult order.”

“Are you a member of this order, then?”

“No. But my twin brother, Nicholas, is. He’s an assassin working for them. We were separated as children. When we first meet up again, he tries to kill me. But then his conscience gets to him and he saves my life by swapping bodies with me … Are you listening to this? The more I talk, the more mad it all seems.”

“Try to stay calm, Peter. Do you have a brother?”

“Yes. Yes, of course. Nicholas is real.”

“And how do the two of you get along?”

“Very well. We used to do everything together; we were inseparable. Real twins.”

“You say ‘used to.’ Did something happen?”

“Nothing in particular. I left to study in the US. He became a priest and nowadays lives in Rome. He travels a lot. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what his role is.”

“Have you told him about your dreams?”

P.A. stares at his feet, doesn’t answer.

“Peter?”

“No. We don’t see one another much.”

“Maybe he would be able to help.”

“You mean, maybe our parents abused us or something?”

“No, not at all, I mean that sometimes you find fascinating phenomena occurring between twins.”

“Fascinating phenomena? I’m a real classic case, right, Bob? A real crazy and a twin, too. That would make a great academic paper.”

P.A. massages his temples again, moans slightly.

“Stay calm, Peter. Very calm. We’re just talking about you. I’m trying to be as honest as I can. I may not be able to help you. It is possible you might have some real form of psychosis. That’s what we’re trying to find out. But you have to trust me, Peter. Do you?”

“Yes. Yes, of course, Doc … I mean, Bob. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Tell me more about what happens in these dreams of yours.”

“After the Vatican is blown up, I become chief exorcist for the new pope.”

“Francis I?”

“No, no, not at all. This guy calls himself Pope Peter II, but he’s really a member of the occult order. He has a private secretary called Edward Kelly, but he only turns up later.”

“Who is this Edward Kelly?”

“He was the assistant of the English alchemist, John Dee. He’s more than 500 years old. He kills Ellen – my wife – in a desert somewhere. Then I meet him on an island somewhere in the Mediterranean. He’s a madman.”

“What about your daughter? You have a daughter, don’t you? Does she appear in these dreams?”

“No. I never come across Maya. Like I said, Kelly murders Ellen. Then he tries to kill Nicholas and me.”

P.A. goes silent, looking exhausted now.

“Are you okay, Peter? Maybe that’s enough for now.”

“It’s okay, really. I’m fine.”

“What happens next?”

“All hell breaks loose. It starts in Cologne Cathedral. The Earth opens up and there’s fire everywhere, people burnt alive. Then it happens in other places too. Evil that has been dormant for centuries suddenly breaks out all over the world.”

“You say ‘evil,’ but haven’t we had evil in the world forever? I mean, if we look at the world as a whole.”

“I can’t explain properly, but in my dreams ‘evil’ is the breath of some terrible creature sleeping in the bowels of the Earth, an ancient, sleeping creature that suddenly wakes up and begins the apocalypse and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

“Who do you mean by ‘we’ in this context?”

“The ex-pope, Maria and a Swiss Guard called Bühler. And a Japanese billionaire called Nakashima. He’s the one who gives me a bionic hand. He works with the ex-pope, but deals with Seth too.”

“The fact that you remember all these names from your dreams is very unusual. In fact the whole extent of the details you recall is very rare.”

“You think I’m making it all up?”

“No, of course not. I’m just saying that it is – well – unusual. Most people forget their dreams within seconds of waking. At best they just remember a few vague themes.”

“These dreams are the worst I’ve ever had. I wish I could forget them.”

P.A. gets up to go.

“No, don’t go. I’m curious. I want to know more about your dreams.”

P.A. laughs and sits down again.

“What about God?”

“What about him?”

“Where does God come into your dreams? You dream about a pope, the Vatican, you sleep with a nun, and then there’s this concept of ‘evil’ – so I’m just wondering, what about God? Where does he come into it all?”

“I never dream about God – no, hang on, that’s not true – it’s just that I don’t think of it as ‘God’; it’s more a sort of state of grace.”

P.A. closes his eyes, trying to concentrate.

“I’m in Nepal, with Nicholas. In an underground labyrinth, where the occult order has one of its headquarters. I’m looking for Maria and find her in a cave. But she’s not the same Maria. And next to her there is something weird, a big fibrous cocoon, with something vile growing in it. Satan maybe. I don’t know exactly, but whatever it is, it uses Maria as its mouthpiece. We have sex again, but when I wake up afterwards, she’s gone. I try to destroy the cocoon thing but Nicholas stops me. Then we find ourselves in a secret area at the heart of the labyrinth, where the cult is growing clones of the two of us.”

“What for?”

“It seems there’s some ancient lethal DNA virus that Seth is cultivating to wipe out most of humanity. That is what he’s been looking for all this time, a sort of Pandora’s Box. And Nicholas and I are the keys to it, the ones who can activate it. But then we destroy their laboratory with one of the little blue bombs, and destroy the cocoon that Seth or Satan or whoever is growing in, except that we die too.”

“And that’s when you wake up?”

“Nope, it keeps going. It turns out we’re not really dead after all. We’re just trapped in frozen time, surrounded by the M’hu, the ones who make the amulet chains.”

“So these, what do you call them, ‘M’hu’ … are they God?”

“No. But they have been living in this sort of state of grace for eons, trying to preserve it. Nicholas and I grow old in this frozen time and translate ancient documents that we leave for Laurenz and Maria along with one of the amulets. But they have to find Pandora’s Box before Seth does.”

“Excuse me if I keep interrupting you. But didn’t you say Seth was killed when the cocoon was destroyed?”

“Yes, but he comes back. It’s not over. And that’s why I want to get back, to escape from this world of frozen time, except that I’m trapped in it.”

“But why would you want to leave what you call a ‘state of grace,’ Peter? Is there something wrong, something unpleasant about it?”

“I’m old and lonely, and I don’t belong there. I have to help Maria, help her prevent the apocalypse. Nicholas and I know there is only one way to escape from the state of grace, and that is through an eruption of evil. So I kill my brother, with a dagger. In the Vatican.”

P.A. is clearly shaken.

“And then?”

“Then I really do wake up.”

III

July 17, 2011, Bawley Point, Australia

Everywhere she turned there was nothing but darkness, total darkness, as black and deep as the beginning of time. There was no light in any direction, no up or down, no sound save for the beating of her own heart, and even that she barely felt. A deathly cold slowly penetrated her neoprene suit, and the pressure on her lungs mounted. Not that she had dived deep; she was just under the surface of the water, but swallowed up in darkness. She had to breathe slowly, deeply, calmly. That’ll do, she thought to herself, just let yourself go, dissolve into the seawater like salt, let yourself go, fade away into a world where there are no more dreams.

Gradually, with measured strokes, she moved through the total darkness of the South Pacific, feeling the weight of the world drag on her. Her nocturnal excursion wasn’t exactly risk-free. There had been no shark attacks forever – well, for at least three months, which in Jim’s measurement of time was as good as forever – but still there were creatures of every shape and size swarming around her. Plus the swarms of bluebottle jellyfish that gathered in the warm shallow waters near the shore. They weren’t as dangerous as the box jellyfish, but the slightest touch of one of their stingers meant 20 minutes of agony and a skin rash for the rest of your life. And then there were the stingrays, dozens of which also haunted the little coves along the shore. The sea off Australia’s east coast was dangerous. If its creatures didn’t poison you then your dreams would. Oh yes, the dreams, dreams that could drive you mad, completely insane. Only here in the utter darkness was there peace, no more voices, no more of the images that tortured Rachel, kept her awake and drove her mad.

She had enough air left in her lungs and propelled herself forward with stronger strokes, as if she were alone in a universe before the big bang. She no longer heeded the abyss below and the shadows of sharks that might lurk in it. Her mind focused only on the movements of her limbs; arms and legs that had grown strong through her daily exercise regime, even if Jim thought them still too skinny. But then Jim was never happy with anything. She knew he really liked it: her trim, fit body, her small breasts, her sunburnt shoulders and her youth. It was only her paintings he didn’t like. As far as Jim was concerned, her art was just a nuisance that came with an otherwise fine trophy. Because that was what she was: Jim’s trophy, a tasty catch, a shimmering siren, landed and laid out on the beach to dry and expire, her feet bloody from dancing. She had taken the offered bait of a safe existence all too easily. Rachel Kannai was 34 years old and had a definite thing for older men. She’d had a whole series of lovers around the same age, but none of them meant much to her. Ever since she was 18, she hadn’t had a home: She travelled, finding lodging with the Jims and Hanks and Bobs of the world, who took her in like a cute, homeless kitten to be looked after until it started biting and pissing on the carpets. Or in her case, until she needed an abortion. Friends were something else she didn’t bother with.

The first year Rachel had persuaded herself that Jim was mad about her and would do anything for her, would scourge his own flesh, wade through an ocean of acid, even move back to Sydney. Anything. Even have a child with her. Wrong. Jim had sucked her in and spat her out again, then hung her up with a surfboard on a shelf for his mates and the rest of Bawley Point to gape at, until eventually Jim tired of her tiny tits, her Abo mates, her days-long disappearances into the outback, and the rumors that went around about her. Not to mention that she’d started drinking to sleep every night.

She had been born in Tel Aviv but spent most of her life in Australia, first in Darwin, then in Sydney. Her parents had left Israel at the end of the eighties because they’d had enough of car bombs, intifada and economic crises. At least, her mother had. She belonged to the so-called second generation, children of Holocaust survivors who were traumatized by their parents’ past. They had been a fearful, mistrusting generation with no identity of their own, named after murdered uncles or aunts, with nightmares of concentration camps they’d never known.

For Rachel’s mother, Australia had been paradise – at least until Rachel began to be tortured by her dreams, disturbing dreams of tiny tragedies – a fire in a greengrocer’s, a sandstorm, a runaway dog who turned up back home, the death of a particularly argumentative neighbor – all of which, however, turned out to be uncannily prophetic. Rachel’s mother considered her daughter’s gift to be a curse and sent her to various doctors. It was only with puberty that her dreams suddenly disappeared as if they’d been some itchy rash that was suddenly washed away by the flood of hormones, only to resurface a few years later, more vividly than ever. That was what had happened. After her second abortion the dreams had come back, worse now than ever. Rachel did what she had always done: turned her dreams into paintings. She painted the creatures that came to visit her at night. She had a choice of careers: athlete or artist. She chose art. It was probably a mistake because nobody was interested in the work of a white woman who – after graduating from the National Art School in Sydney – painted like an Australian aborigine but scattered schmaltzy pictures of angels all over her work.

When it came down to it, Rachel knew her old work was little more than exotic kitsch. But that was not true of the series of pictures she had begun painting over the past few months. They were something else. They were good, really good, for the first time. Her angels were still there but they had changed. They had lost their wings, become large translucent entities floating silently, absently across the world like the mimi, the mythical spirits in which the Aborigines believed, who could only hunt when there was no wind for fear they would break. But Rachel’s spirit figures were strong and shaped like lizards that walked on two feet, just as they appeared in her dreams. Still, she doubted she would ever find anyone to take an interest in her work. She would never find a gallery to show them and certainly not a buyer. At the moment they were lying in a garage that Roy Graham had rented out to her, down by the harbor. It had been ages since she’d shown them to anybody, least of all Jim. She was certain that – whether or not her pictures were good – in the end they would land her in a mental hospital or be the death of her. That was assuming she could keep on drinking as much as she did every night just to keep the dreams at bay. And she doubted that more every day.

At this moment, however, she was stone cold sober. Her thoughts were clearer and more pure than they had been for a long time. She tossed away those about Jim and the paintings like worthless flotsam, let the darkness take them and dissolve them into nothingness. She concentrated on the movements of her limbs and the beating of her heart. She took another stroke, felt the resistance of the water. Something brushed against her feet, but maybe she imagined it. All around was darkness, a world with neither up nor down. She took another stroke.

Then she heard the voices. And saw the light.

As the pressure on her lungs became unbearable she threw her head back and kicked upwards to the surface – back into the salty November night air, where the lights of Bawley Point winked from the nearby shore; she was back in the world of televisions, barbecues, economic crises, calamine, rampaging wallabies in the garden, too much white wine, the perennial Bawley gossip, Jim and the boys and the lie that she was an artist. Or a sportswoman. Or Jim’s wife. What the hell? None of it meant anything any more. Exhausted and confused, Rachel hauled herself onto the surfboard to which she had been linked all this time by a line tied around her ankle, and paddled slowly back to the beach, the whispering voices from the deep still in her ear.

She didn’t go back to the house to see Jim and the boys. She tramped to the shore with heavy legs, ripped off the neoprene suit and left it discarded on the beach like a shed skin. That would tell Jim she wasn’t coming back. Her Hilux was parked behind the dunes. Rachel hastily pulled on a t-shirt and shorts and drove down to her workshop by the harbor.

It was 2:30 in the morning. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. Most of the houses belonged to some rich family or other from Sydney or Brisbane, who only came here in summer. In just a few weeks the streets and gardens would be full of SUVs, motor boats, surf boards, boogie boards and brightly colored toys, the beaches crowded and the air filled with the smells of coconut lotion and frying fat. But on this mild Australian spring night, the place was deserted, empty, as still as a patient put into an artificial coma to conceal the pain. At that precise moment Rachel realized how much she hated Bawley Point.

She parked the Hilux on the little jetty, opened the garage doors and checked the locks for signs that anyone might have tried to break in. Without turning on the light she went across to the little desk that Roy had deigned to give her and scrabbled in the drawer for her passport and wallet with credit cards. Then she turned around to see Jim facing her, smelling of cigarettes and vodka. Not that much vodka, though. Unlike her, Jim never lost control. He drank but he wasn’t a boozer.

“Where have you been?”

“Swimming.”

“At this time? What the fuck, Rachel! It’s the middle of the night.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

She tried to get past him, to get out into the fresh air, but he grabbed her.

“Rachel!”

“Let me go, Jim, I’m tired.”

“My God, Rachel, what’s with you? These days you disappear every night, just vanish. Then you spend all day here. Have you looked in the mirror? You look like a ghost. Is something wrong? Are you on coke?”

“I’m not sleeping with anybody else, if that’s what’s worrying you.”

“For Christ’s sake, that’s not what I’m talking about.”

“What then?”

He hesitated, let go of her, and with a gesture that was unusually self-conscious, waved a hand in the direction of her paintings. “I’ve had a look at these. Roy kept a spare key.”

Rachel stared at him. “You piece of shit!”

He didn’t try to argue, just shrugged. As far as Jim was concerned, everything and everybody in Bawley Point belonged to him, including Rachel. The “King of Bawley” came and went as he pleased, paid his bills and whored around as he wanted. And tough shit on anybody who complained. Rachel had seen him almost run over one of the rangers from the National Park in the Hilux, just because the man had tried to stop him from taking a shortcut through the bush.

“These paintings …” he began, his whole huge body shuddering with horror and disgust. “My God, Rachel, what is going on in your head? You need help, professional help.”

“You think I’m sick?”

“As soon as it gets light, we’re going into Sydney to see a specialist.”

Rachel had her passport in one hand and her purse in the other. She didn’t have a hand free. The story of her life.

She knew she should be saying, “It’s over, Jim, I’m leaving you.” Instead, she merely nodded.

“Whatever you think is right, Jim. I’m just tired. Give me a minute, will you? Then you can take me home and in the morning we can go to Sydney or wherever.”

Jim looked at her, nodded and went back to his car. Rachel knew what she had to do. By the time she shut the studio door and ran to the Hilux that stood on the jetty with its motor running, she stank of petrol. Before Jim could even turn his car around he heard the explosion, a dull boom that split the cool night air like a nut. Seconds later there were already flames issuing from every window of the studio, smoke pouring from every crack, making the night sky darker still.

“Shit, what the hell have you done?” Jim yelled at her, his eyes wide open in horror. She didn’t answer, just opened the passenger door, reached under the seat and pulled out the loaded Colt 45 that Jim always kept there, “just in case.”

“Get out of the car,” she said calmly.

“What the fuck, Rachel! Just what …?”

“Get out, Jim,” she said. “I’m leaving you.”

Eventually he did what he was told. Without taking his eyes off her, he climbed out of the car and took a step backwards. Rachel slid into the driver’s seat and put the car into first gear.

“If you try to follow me or send the police after me I’ll send the tax inspectors after you, and I know just where to tell them to start looking,” she told him, realizing suddenly that she was calmer than she had been for months. “Do you understand?”

He did. “Don’t do anything stupid, baby,” he said, nodding. “Hey, I love you.”

“Have a nice life, Jim.”

And that was that. She grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and drove off. In the rear-view mirror she could see the studio burning and in her left trouser pocket she could feel the amulet burning. When she reached the road, she threw the gun out of the window and put her foot on the accelerator. Three hours later she dumped the car in a no-parking zone near the departure terminal at Sydney airport. The next flight to Europe was in two hours. To Frankfurt. Rachel booked herself onto the first connecting flight to Jerusalem. That was where the creature from the deep had told her she had to go. Home.

IV

July 17, 2011, Vatican City

The only sensation he felt was one of terrifying uncertainty. The last glance over his shoulder hadn’t fully convinced him that Kelly was dead. In his head he went over those last moments again and again. The expression of surprise on Kelly’s face on seeing the drawn weapon. The hole in his forehead. The blood spurting in all directions. Blood all over the snow-white robes of the deacons. Kelly’s body, thrown backwards by the force of the impact, then collapsed on the ground. The first shot was almost certainly fatal. Almost. And how many more bullets did he fire into Kelly’s motionless body? Two to the head, the rest to his body and chest. Was that enough to kill somebody who had survived for centuries?

The uncertainty ate at him like sulfuric acid, even as the guards dragged him away from Kelly. Two hefty Swiss lads, whose names he didn’t know, had grabbed him under the arms and dragged him off the stage on which all the television cameras were focused, down the wooden stairs behind it, past all the shocked and horrified faces, the furor of tens of thousands screaming in the Damascus courtyard, and then into the cool of Apostolic place. It was as if they were running away. Nobody spoke. All Pope Peter II could hear was the panting of the young Swiss Guards and the footsteps of the gendarmes following them.

The few nuns or members of the curia they encountered in the palace had obviously been watching the television, as they quickly turned aside as if the pope were carrying some fatal, highly contagious disease.

The pope and his guards finally reached the ancient elevator that went up into the offices and apartments above. The two guards stopped.

“Where are we to take him?” one asked the other in Italian.

“No idea.”

“Damn it, somebody needs to tell us where to take him. Where’s the commander?”

“Sling him in jail!” suggested one of the gendarmes, an Italian lad with a carefully trimmed moustache. He said it as if the pope wasn’t even there. It was true that the Vatican had a jail of its own, in the Swiss Guards’ barracks, although it hardly counted as a proper one. Once upon a time there had been two cells, mainly used as store rooms, seeing as over the course of the centuries only four people had ever been locked up there.

The obvious confusion of his escort and the absurd suggestion of putting him in the Vatican jail shook Pope Peter II from his worries about Kelly. He shrugged loose the two Swiss Guards and said angrily, “What on earth do you think you’re doing? Is this any way to speak in the presence of the Holy Father?”

The four young men looked more flustered than ever.

“I know precisely what I just did,” Pope Peter II growled. “But I am still head of the Church and head of this state. I am still your supreme commander. I am still your pope!”

The pope looked around and saw that apart from the two Swiss Guards and gendarmes there was nobody else in the long corridor with its 500-year-old stone floor. But it wouldn’t be long, Pope Peter II knew, before they would all arrive: the cardinals, deacons, secretaries, secretarial assistants, the Opus Dei people and all those other inconspicuous curial bureaucrats who worked for one secret service or another. Time was of the essence.

The two guards didn’t dare touch him again. But they didn’t show any sign of leaving him, either. Then, to his relief, he spotted Colonel Steiner, the Swiss Guards’ commandant, rushing down the corridor towards them.

“Here you are, Your Holiness,” the commandant saluted him, trying to act as calmly as possible. “Oh my God, are you injured?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just, because …” Colonel Steiner nodded at his papal soutane: For the first time, Pope Peter II noticed the huge bloodstain on the white surplice and realized he had blood on his face too. Kelly’s blood. For a second he felt ill, but he pulled himself together.

“Thank you, Commandant. I seem to be well so far. I should like to retire to my appartamento. I would like you to accompany me. You, and you alone.”

Steiner turned to the two young guards and said: “Call for reinforcements, and let nobody up. Is that clear? Use force if you have to.”

“Yes sir, Commandant. But what about the … I mean, what if His Excellency, the Cardinal Secretary of State …?”

“I said nobody. That is an order.”

Steiner opened the elevator door for the pope and joined him inside, but it was only as the ancient elevator from the 1940s began slowly to ascend to the Terzia Loggia, where the papal apartment was situated, that the pope began to speak.

“Did you know that this elevator is the one and only place in the Vatican that cannot be bugged, Colonel Steiner?”

“Yes. I am aware of that.”

Peter II took a good look at the tall colonel, an inconspicuous, tranquil Swiss man, as loyal as Urs Bühler but without his fiery temperament. And unlike Bühler, he was the guardian of a very particular secret.

“Did you watch it? I mean closely?”

“Yes, Your Holiness. I was just a few feet away.”

“Have you the slightest doubt that I really killed Edward Kelly?”

“No, Your Holiness.”

“Then perhaps you have some idea what is in store for us.”

“Not altogether.”

“That’s as may be, Steiner, but I am going to give you some orders that I will not repeat outside this elevator. First of all: Make quite certain that the man I shot really is dead and that he is definitely Edward Kelly. Secondly: Put together a bodyguard of your best and most loyal people and order them to protect me around the clock. I want it to look like they are preventing me from escaping. Thirdly: Contact Franz Laurenz and ask him to come to me as soon as possible.”

“Your Holiness, I have to tell you that Franz Laurenz has disappeared and I have no idea …”

“Don’t try that with me, Steiner. I know that you are a member of the Order of the Holy Sword. Call Laurenz.”

The colonel nodded contritely: “As you command, Your Holiness.”

The elevator shuddered one final time and came to a halt on the third floor.

“Holy Father, may I ask what you intend to do now?”

Peter II gave him a thin smile and said, “Survive the next few days, Steiner. Then we’ll see.”

Steiner locked all the doors to the papal apartment and shooed the four maids of the Comunione e Liberazione community as well as Alfio Meli, the valet who had also served Pope John Paul III, into the dining room. Then he made three quick calls on his mobile phone before turning back to the pope, who was standing at the window looking out onto St. Peter’s Square.

“Please stay away from the windows, Your Holiness.”

The pope nodded and drew back.

“Of course, Colonel Steiner. Have you got hold of Laurenz?”

“Not directly, Your Holiness. But he will receive your message shortly.”

“Tell the Vatican Gendarmerie to search the cellar underneath the garden stores. They will find evidence of other unpleasantness, for which I am afraid I am also responsible.” The pope handed the colonel a list of names and said: “These are people who I know for sure are among the Bearers of the Light. You will have to deal with them too.”

“I will deal with it straight away, Holy Father.” Steiner glanced at his Oficina Panerai watch, the only luxury item he possessed. “It is 12:15 now. You have time enough to freshen up and put on a clean soutane.”

“In preparation for what, precisely?”

“I apologize, Holy Father. I didn’t mean to anticipate your orders. I was just wondering whom you wanted to see first? His Eminence the Cardinal Secretary of State? One of the ambassadors? Perhaps the prefect of the Rome police?”

“Nobody, Colonel Steiner. I do not want to see anybody, and you know why?”

Steiner swallowed hard: “Because you know what they’re all going to say, Your Holiness.”

“Exactly. They will all demand my immediate abdication. What else can they do? They will put pressure on me, all the pressure they can muster. Even to the extent of veiled suggestions that something nasty could happen to me. No, Steiner, for the immediate future I have no intention of leaving the appartamento and will carry out my office from here. And I wish to see nobody save for yourself and the domestic staff. And Laurenz, of course, the minute he arrives.”

Steiner’s complexion hardened as he realized what was expected of him. “I understand, Your Holiness. But you are only placing yourself in an even more dangerous situation.”

“I am relying on you, Steiner. Bring Laurenz to me. And now you need to go back out there. All hell will have broken loose by now.”

“May I ask you one last question, Your Holiness?”

“Go ahead.”

“Why?”

Pope Peter II took a long, hard look at the Swiss Guard commandant as he let the question resonate in the caverns, crevices and catacombs of his conscience. He could find no trace of the demon that had raged there, but no light either, no hidden sign of hope. Wherever he looked – in the depths of the labyrinth of his soul that had been infected and purged by thousands of exorcisms – he could find only darkness, dirt and the remains of some unspeakable evil that until recently had felt at home there and at any moment might return if he did not guard against it.

For a second he thought back to his childhood days in the Marche, that fertile region of Italy where the people were happier and lived longer than anywhere else. He, Luigi Gattuso, could have been a farmer like his father and lived like everyone else to a happy old age. But his ambition had driven him from this paradise to become the Vatican’s chief exorcist, the special emissary of the pope, and eventually to become pope himself. This ambition to strive for more than earthly paradise was itself an infection that had eaten away at his soul and which no confession, no forgiveness could heal.

“Pray for my soul, Colonel Steiner,” he said quietly, reaching his hand out to the Swiss Guard. “And thank you, thank you for everything.”

After washing off Kelly’s blood and donning a clean soutane, the pope went out to speak with the domestic servants who were still in the dining room, waiting with a trepidation worthy of Judgment Day. The faces of the four women were red from crying; they flinched when they saw the pope, as if afraid he would shoot them too. Alfio tried to keep up appearances but the pope could see fear written on his face too. He realized he had become an alien, no longer part of the household, no longer at home in the Apostolic Palace, the Vatican or even the Church itself.

“I know this must all be very traumatic for you,” he began without further ado. “But I’m afraid there is nothing I can do to change that. The next few hours and days are going to be a real trial for you, and if at any time you feel unable to carry out your duties as normal, then you may go.”

He looked around at their five faces. No one said a word. Perhaps they were still in shock. He wondered how they’d react when it wore off. He wondered if they knew the pressure they were going to face, simply from people trying to get to him. He wondered if they could withstand that pressure, the pressure perhaps to kill him.

“I thank you for your confidence in me. I shall now retire to the library. Could you please bring me a pot of green tea, Alfio?”

Even that little speech had taken a lot out of him, he realized. He was not even 60 yet, one of the youngest popes in history, and he had always prided himself on his fitness. But as he sat down at his desk he suddenly felt overcome by nerves, exhaustion and fear. He realized he had been grinding his teeth continuously. Sitting there he thought back to Kelly. Already it seemed as if the shots he had fired had been in the distant past, something that had happened long ago and had nothing to do with him personally. He certainly didn’t think of what he’d done as a mortal sin, and he certainly did not regret his deed in the slightest.

It was time to pray. Pope Peter II retired to his private chapel and prayed to God for forgiveness. If there was a God. As chief exorcist of the Vatican he had seen evidence enough of evil. He had even become a tool of Satan. But God had never revealed himself. He realized that this was his Golgotha moment. He had not the slightest doubt that those who held the reins of power in the curia would decide, as soon as the initial shock had passed, that the only solution was his death. Even his abdication would only postpone the implementation of that decision. But he did not want to die yet. And there was only one man on Earth who could save him.

But neither that thought nor his prayers did anything to relieve his anxiety. He was shaking with fear. Suddenly he bent over double, a cold sweat breaking out all over his body.

“Can I do anything, Holy Father?” he heard his elderly manservant ask. “Should I call a doctor?”

The pope flinched, brusquely shook off his valet’s helping hand and said, “How long have you been standing there?”

“I heard you groan, Holiness, and I …”

“Leave me alone. Do you understand? Leave me alone.”

Without a second glance at the bewildered Alfio, he retreated into his library and locked the door behind him. The heat of the Roman summer came in through the half-open window, accompanied by the distant sound of traffic and a pale scent of lavender and valerian. The scent of evil. He recognized it from a thousand exorcisms. He hurried over to close the window and pulled an armchair into the center of the room from where he could see both doors and the window. He would not move from this spot. Alone and frightened, he sat and waited. For Laurenz. Or for death.

V

August 20, 2013, Grinnell, Iowa, USA

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