Episode Ten: Out of the Ruins - Reunion!
Like a three-dimensional ripple in a pond originating on Vatican Hill, the solar rays had been blocked by the thick billowing clouds of smoke that undulated into the air, not dissolving until it reached the highest atmospheres. Soon all of Rome was enveloped in this shroud of smoke. A charcoal gray pall cast a dark, suffocating shadow over the eternal city. How many had been killed in this terrible disaster. Had it destroyed everything like the same explosions at the Field of Abraham?
Those were some of the questions Pat Gallagher had asked Niki once they had reached the turret room. Of course, Niki was as much in the dark as Patrick. All he could do was assume. One who would never assume was Dr. Guido Ghislieri, who was none the worse for wear. He immediately began examining the somewhat still dazed Holy Father. Both Pat and Niki knew His Holiness was in the best hands possible - his own personal physician. With that assured, Pat had headed back into the Leonine passageway. By hook or by crook he'd reach the Papal Quarters eventually.
Dateline: Vatican City - Apostolic Palace - November 6, 12:10 p.m.
Though Grabe was no more, Stephen wasn't taking any chances. Instead of going the conventual way to the Papal Quarters, he decided to take Corrie via the Pope's Private Chapel, then through the Sacristy to the opening, still covered by the albs he had hung there this morning. Consider the surprise he encountered when he pulled back the white garment to confront his mentor Cardinal Zachmunn and Captain Royce Schuster, both smudged with dirt from the impact of the blast.
"Your Eminence," Monsignor Navarro stammered in disbelief, "I - I can't believe you're--"
"Safe, my son?" Gregory completed his sentence, revealing a wide smile creasing his face as they embraced.
"They couldn't get the candles and coffins all out?" Stephen asked, lamenting.
"The rude Texan fouled up the works, Stephen. It will take some time to assess the damage. I do believe most are safe, however. And who might this young lady be?" Cardinal Zachmunn asked as he extended his ringed hand.
"Oh, man, I'm sorry, your Eminence. This is Corrine Morelli. She's uh, uh, Pat Gallagher's fiancée."
Corrie bowed reverently, kissing the Cardinal's ring, which greatly impressed the St. Louis Archbishop. "I didn't know she had come with him," Gregory remarked.
"I didn't, your Eminence," Corrie replied. "But don't ask right now. It's a long story. I just want to see Pat. Please!!!"
"Where is he, Stephen?" the Cardinal inquired.
"To my knowledge," acknowledged Navarro, "still with the Pope and Fr. Niki at the Castle of the Angels."
"Let us keep moving, your Eminence and friends," informed an anxious Captain Royce Schuster. "We can see what has occurred from the Papal windows."
"Good idea, Captain," Gregory encouraged. "Carry on."
All four continued to the narrow circular staircase leading to the area near the Papal Closet and into the Papal Quarters.
The living quarters appeared empty, but had felt the shock of explosions, manifested by broken lamps and vases, furniture overturned. Where had Sister Bridie gone? The front doors were still locked from the inside. No sign of anyone, and then Captain Schuster saw her, crumpled against the wall behind a tilted chair.
"Over there, quickly," the Swiss Guard announced, "she could be injured."
Stephen raced to the Irish nun's side, blood from a gash in her temple was dribbling down her cheek and onto her immaculate white wimple. She was not aware. She was out cold, but there was a pulse. Lifting her gently he carried her to the bedroom where he carefully laid her unconscious body down on the Papal bed. Not proper protocol, but these, as had been proven time and again over the last few days, were not normal times.
Corrie rushed to her side, already armed with a wet towel to moisten her face. Captain Schuster produced a small vial, that he cracked open and held beneath Sister Bridie's nose. Soon she coughed and lunged forward, knocked back into consciousness by the strong camphor the Swiss Guard had waved beneath her nostrils.
"What be happenin' to me?" She seemed dazed, trying to collect more air into her delicate lungs.
Stephen was the first to answer, "The force of the explosions must have knocked you against the corner of that chair over there. I'd say from the looks of it, that you got the better of the two." He was trying to make levity during a time that few felt like smiling or laughing, yet, it was absolutely necessary to keep one's mind clear and focused. A little levity here was quite fitting, though it was lost on the diminutive nun who was still bewildered by the attention and what caused this.
"Monsignor, this be the work of the Legion?"
"Oh, dear God, how bad ?!"
Cardinal Zachmunn spoke up as he entered the room, "Not as bad as we had feared, thank God."
While the other three had tended to Sister, Gregory took the opportunity to look out the windows to the devastation across the Square. From his vantage point he could see how the angels had protected the sacred foundations of the Holy See while so much else had been destroyed. Thank God, he winced, it could have been so much worse had they not removed all those candles. He gave another Deo Gratias that they had uncovered the detonator and knew the time. Think of the carnage had they not known. The thought caused the Archbishop to shudder for a second in place.
"Sister," Stephen directed, "permit me to introduce someone to you. This is Corrine Morelli from Dallas, Pat's fiancée."
"You can call me Corrie, Sister, it is good to meet you, even under these circumstances."
"Sure n' you have a good man, Corrie. You be standin' behind him, you hear."
"I will, Sister, I will, I just can't wait to see him."
"Well, we'll leave you two to get to know each other better," the Cardinal announced. "We have work to do."
With that Stephen and Royce followed him out of the bedroom into the Papal living room where they gathered near the window, feeling the wind gust up as a helicopter was setting down in the Square below.
Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 6, 12:25 p.m.
The plethora of ciboriums containing the consecrated Hosts that had been protected by the clerics led by Cardinal Kabwela, had safely deposited their priceless treasure in the Lateran tabernacle. Colin Rembert and two of his Penultimate camera men/reporters, who had accompanied the cardinals and bishops, had stayed with the tourist chopper. Once the prelates were away from the chopper in the parking lot in front of the Lateran, Colin directed the pilot to return toward the Vatican, lifting high enough to record the destruction below, then banking out of the swirling smoke racing upward ahead of the flames. Once Colin had confirmation that it was safe to land he had the pilot drop down in St. Peter's Square as the three resisters watched from the Papal window.
Colin and one of his assistants disembarked while his other assistant remained in the tourism chopper, which was now, for the next half hour or so - being converted to a news copter as it lifted and hovered, swinging around over the courtyards between the Vatican Museum and behind the Basilica to avoid the westerly winds that were now carrying the smoke eastward towards the Tiber and beyond. Beneath the layers, the chopper hovered to get as clear pictures as possible.
The bell-tower had taken a direct hit from flying granite from the side of Paul VI Hall. For now the bells were silenced, but not Colin, who was communicating with his technical director in Sydney and his cameraman in the chopper and with one of his assistants pointing a Penultimate towards him. With all operatives ready on his signal, Colin focused his Penultimate lens in a panoramic sweep of the destruction wrought.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the world, Colin Rembert here. The danger seems to have subsided. Mind you, it is not safe to return just yet, but I assure you, the fatality numbers are very, very low if not null. Yes, we thank God for that. But there is much damage as you can see through the rubble of the southern Colonnade where once stood the sloping, modern marvel of the Nervi Hall named after the late Paul VI. Like the World Trade Center earlier in this decade, it is no more. You can see beyond that three more buildings have been brought to the ground."
Colin shifted, looking toward the sky that was thick with smoke, as he continued to broadcast while walking toward the vacant ruins and venerated old church. "You can see from our eye above another angle and get a perception of the utter devastation. Firemen are fighting the blazes and, proudly I might say, winning the battle. The flames are being subdued. Though the smoke and fire are vastly clogging up the lowest biosphere at ground level here. Presently, it is becoming very difficult to breathe, ladies and gentlemen."
As the muted Penultimate from the chopper continued to survey the scene of destruction, Colin began walking toward the Vatican, already covering his nose and mouth with a clean handkerchief. "I beg the viewer's forgiveness for the muffled voice, but I must protect my vocal chords. Before I show you the left side of St. Peter's, I feel it is now safe to release the global satellite override we had taken to assure a thorough evacuation. I apologize to my fellow media members in the press, but it was a necessity, mates. I hope, in true journalistic fashion you are ready to pick up and keep your viewers informed. As a gesture of goodwill, and as CEO of Global NetSat, I freely give permission for any media outlet to utilize all video recorded by GNS. It is open domain, mates. I will now authorize unscrambling of the bugger. Gentlemen in Sydney, pull the plug on the blocking beam and clear access to video from 11:30 to present."
You could almost hear the cursing from those few privileged journalists and broadcast snobs seeking an exclusive. They were the ones who had complained the loudest - the same vermin who would deprive the full story or key shot to the rest, would bicker over legalities and hold other professional cohorts hostage over the rights, demanding a ransom for something the entire world should have a right to share. It just didn't seem fair that what should be pooled, was claimed as exclusive. More often than not the perks they received and commissions allotted to them came because of the opportunities they had been granted by the companies they worked for. Prejudicial pragmatism was not something Colin Rembert was fond of and he loved to rock the boat, if only to put these high-nosed sops in their place.
Rembert mounted a few steps at the base of the Basilica in the far end of the Square, looking back to assure his cameraman was still in step. "Those who are still with us, I must caution all that I am not going to do anything rash, mates. Until we get the all-clear from the authorities here, I don't think it is safe to go inside, nor to get too close to the building, yet. What we will do, however, is show you the sequence of events from the time the celebrant from Spain His Eminence Cardinal Mendoza, Dean of the College, announced the necessity to vacate the premises through to, oh, about one minute ago."
Signaling the chopper cam to take the video feed, he voiced over: "Again, for those just tuning in. Tremendous explosions rocked Vatican City at exactly noon today. Paul VI Hall, St. Martha's Palace, St. Charles Palace all suffered direct hits and are gone. Parts of the left side of St. Peter's and the noble Sacristy have sustained damage, and we don't know yet if there have been any casualties of human life. I honestly believe there were none. That, in itself, ladies and gentlemen, is a miracle."
He was finding it more difficult to breathe as he signed off and turned it over to the GNS studios in Sydney where capable anchors were ready to carry on. Quickly he headed for the Bronze Doors and inside where the air was clear.
Stephen had already descended the Scala Nobile to the Scala Pia where he greeted the Australian with a warm embrace at the base of the stairs.
"Colin, I can't thank you enough for your yeomen efforts. Thanks to you--"
"Shhhh, mate, you'll give me a big head, ya will."
"Come," Stephen confided, "Cardinal Zachmunn is waiting in the Papal Quarters."
Rembert was taken back. "You mean me? We can get into the inner sanctum?"
"Today, yes!" Stephen affirmed, as he started up the Scala Pia staircase. "You've earned at least that much of a perk. Accept it."
"Well, if you put it that way, Monsignor, I'm up to it, I am."
Dateline: Vatican City - Papal Apartment - November 6, 12:40 p.m.
Monsignor Navarro had left the Penultimate with Cardinal Zachmunn, Corrie and Sister Bridie to view the events while Captain Schuster stood guard over the Papal Quarters. Sister had recovered her senses enough to inform the Cardinal that Dr. Ghislieri had arrived before the explosions and she had directed him down the secret corridor to the Castle. Gregory was relieved and anxious to join the Doctor, but he would wait for Pat or Niki to return with news before venturing forth. He also had to contact Cardinals Mendoza and Wetherby, wherever they were to brief them and consult with them on the next move. Most had been prepared for the Conclave which was to begin at 2 p.m. That would undoubtedly be delayed. Besides, Gregory knew that really would be a mute point once the College was notified that Clement XV was still alive.
However, for the sake of all, it might be necessary to continue the confidentiality until the entire College was safely within the confines of the Sistine and secrecy was assured. The advantages of the Penultimate had given the St. Louis Archbishop a brilliant idea if it could be pulled off.
The man Captain Schuster ushered in through the main doors to the Papal Quarters would be the man who could do it as Stephen and Colin entered the room.
"Your Eminence, I am honored," Colin humbled himself, genuflecting to kiss the Cardinal's ring.
"We should be the ones honored, Mr. Rembert," Gregory enthused gratefully. "You have done Holy Mother Church proud."
"If God is pleased, that is all I ask. And please, your Eminence, call me Colin."
"Let me introduce you, Colin," Stephen enthusiastically opined, as he escorted him to the Papal bedroom where Sister Bridie was now feeling much more chipper. While he was acquainting Colin with Sister and Corrie, an additional person entered the mix from the Leonine passageway.
Stephen, Colin, Sister and Corrie could all hear another familiar voice as he emerged from the Papal closet. Cardinal Zachmunn was the first to acknowledge him.
"Patrick, at last we meet. I am Cardinal Gregory. Thank God you are safe. How is His Holiness?"
"As best as he can be under the circumstances. He's weak, but the Doc is with him now."
"I'm relieved. I think there's someone who wants to see you in the other room," Gregory grinned.
Stephen was standing at the door, a wide smile on his face as he greeted Pat.
"Father," Pat sighed, "thanks for sending the Doc."
"That was Sister Bridie, Pat," Stephen explained. "She's recuperating. Come on in and say hi to her. Oh, and there's someone I want you to meet."
His grin was getting wider as Pat entered the room. "Hi, Sister," Pat recognized her. "You okay?"
"I be doin' fine, Patrick, my boy. Just fine." She sported the same silly grin Stephen had.
"Pat," Monsignor Navarro diverted him, trying to build the moment, "I don't think you've met Colin Rembert."
Colin extended his hand, "I've heard you're a real trooper, mate. Glad to meet ya." He sported the same grin as the other two.
"Same here," Pat replied, gripping Colin's right hand in a masculine handshake. "Ya know, it's really refreshin' to see everybody smilin' for a change," Pat continued, "but somethin's goin' on. C'mon, guys, what's the joke?"
"Wouldn't you like to know!" The voice came from behind him. He knew it instantly as she emerged from behind the door. Corrie's smile was wider than the other three combined as they flew into each other's arms and embraced.
"I don't believe it!" Pat gushed, "I've died and gone to Heaven, Cara Mia. Is it really you?"
"Yes, yes, yes!" Corrie was crying deliriously.
"You're not dreamin', Pat," Stephen dared interrupt the moment, "After all the nightmares you've been through, you sure deserve a break buddy. A big break."
"Ya' got that right," Pat agreed, hugging her tighter. "Then it was you I saw this morning, Cara Mia!"
"Where?" Corrie asked, wiping tears of joy.
"By the river, near a black limo."
"That was me, I was calling Father Stephen."
"I'm really confused," Pat admitted.
"You're confused?," Corrie retorted, "Father Stephen has been filling me in on what's happened. My God, Pat. It's a miracle you're still alive."
Euphoria swept through their veins. It was only right to welcome the respite from the hideous evil that had permeated both their lives; an evil that, despite all resistance, was growing fiercer, and closer. These times of happy reunion were few and far between and every second cherished. Who knew when such an oasis could be reached again?
It had not been a full week, and yet, the world had been cast back into the black pall of shock and dismay once again with the devastating explosions at the Vatican. The dust had settled, the firefighters had subdued the flames, and the emergency crews were now poring over the rubble. As the thick smoke had subsided one could see a different landscape.
The view from the mouth of the Via della Concilliazione showed that the left side of the Colonnade had taken a tremendous hit, part of the roof structure, where Pat and Niki had escaped the night before, had collapsed. Thanks to the many sturdy pillars of granite the Colonnade had not crumbled totally.
Beyond where the modern, sloping Paul VI Hall once stood was nothing but ruins reaching all the way to the battered facade of the Vatican Railway Station. It had sustained severe exterior damage, but the structure still stood. The more modern structures of St. Martha's Palace and St. Charles Palace were total rubble.
Surrounding buildings had been brought to their adamantine knees, including the vaunted Sacrestia. The Palace of Jubilee would need to be rebuilt and the Mosaic Studio building had sustained considerable wreckage as well. But the great Basilica, other than exterior damage and broken windows, had withstood the force of hell, still standing as the rock.
Dateline: Vatican City - Papal Quarters - November 6, 12:45 p.m.
The euphoria of the moment for all who had gathered in the Pope's private quarters would quickly pass, for more urgent matters needed to be addressed.
"I hate to break up this happy reunion, my friends," Cardinal Zachmunn was smiling but firm. "We have urgent matters to tend to, primarily His Holiness."
"Colin is ready to broadcast that the Pope is alive," Stephen offered.
"Not just yet," admonished Gregory. "We need to be sure the Legion can't reach him. When we know he is safe, then we can announce it."
"I quite understand, your Eminence," agreed Colin Rembert.
"Father," Pat remembered as he addressed Stephen, "do you have your laptop with you?"
"Yea, Pat, as a matter a fact I do," Monsignor Navarro affirmed.
Pat narrowed it down. "Has it got a Flash Card slot?"
"Yeah, it does."
"Perfect," Pat enthused. "Let's go. Doc Ghislieri is with the Pope, and Niki can use some more refreshments. Cara Mia, give me a hand."
As he filled up a huge jug with cold water, Stephen and Corrie gathered up a few loaves of bread and rolls from the pantry and the last of the fruit. "The pastry's not real fresh," Corrie winced while informing the others.
"That's okay," Pat nodded, "it's food."
"Stephen, Pat," Cardinal Zachmunn approached them. "I'm coming with you and Captain Schuster will accompany us. Patrick, you know where you're going. Lead the way, my son."
"Wait!" Corrie's voice was raised. "I'm coming with you, too."
"It's too dangerou--," Pat objected, but Corrie had muffled his mouth with her soft hand.
"I'm going. I let you go without me before and look where it got me. I'm not letting you out of my sight again."
"Listen, Pat," Stephen spoke up. "Let her go in my place. Colin and I will take care of Sister Bridie and make sure everything is secure here and in the Sistine area. Besides, within the hour I must assess the damage, try to round up as many prelates as possible and set up a press conference. The world media will be clamoring for it, and right now Colin is the man to have by my side."
"Then be very, very careful, Stephen?" Cardinal Zachmunn counseled. "We know now the Legion is intent on destroying all. Tell only Cardinal Mendoza where we are, my son."
"Yes, Your Eminence. I'll be fine," assured Monsignor Navarro. "Take this Penultimate with you and we can keep in touch through Colin's."
"He's right, mate," Rembert chimed in. "Here, let me show you basically how it works, and what to press and what not to press."
Dateline: Rome - Gridlock on both sides of the Tiber - November 6, 12:50 p.m.
On the Vatican side of the river, pedestrians had totally blanketed the roads. There was no room for even a Moped to eke through as those who had fled St. Peter's and the Square now stood waiting to be directed, talking with agitated gestures, some arguing, others praying, many others weeping openly.
Traffic was snarled all the way back across the Tiber. All six bridges, from the Ponte Sisto spanning the southern bend of the river on the south to the Ponte Umberto on the north, were bumper to bumper. The animated cursings of drivers and passengers were drowned out only by the constant cacophony of horns blaring impatiently. Roman gendarmes were doing all they could to redirect the flow, but few were cooperating, forging their own roads across sidewalks, through alleys where inevitably they either created another jam, ran into a dead-end, or entered another gridlocked fray as bad as the one they had hoped to escape. Contributing to the chaos was the fact that some had abandoned their vehicles to reach their destination or shelter by foot, leaving several obstructed roadblocks for later or the fate of the tow-trucks, which were already on overload and stalled behind impassable traffic on the outskirts of the traffic jams.
Bogged down in this fen of stalled vehicles along the main artery of the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel was the white limo containing the summit of six who had left the Pantheon 45 minutes ago and had only accomplished one and a half miles in that interval. Three cars ahead, Macelli drummed his knobby fingers on the steering wheel, impatience bulging in his veins manifesting themselves beneath the folds of his obese jowls. In the creases of those flabs, cradled the cellphone braced on his shoulder as the Italian prelate tilted his head waiting for an answer from someone, anyone.
"Damn!" cursed Antonio, slamming the phone down on the dashboard. "No Elena. No Kutsch. No Serrano! Where is everybody?"
Trying to remain calm despite his own pique of frustration, Lord Vendhem tried to restore some sense to the madness that threatened his very ambitions. "I know Elena set off the charges. She was premature in Iraq and here again. She is definitely a liability. The Master will not tolerate such ineptitude. She has become a serious risk. She must be eliminated, Antonio."
"First, we have to find her, Josef!" Macelli shot back. "Right now that is impossible. Look at this traffic."
"Then we must return by foot," Vendhem insisted.
"And leave my car?" Macelli asked incredulously.
"It is only a vehicle," sneered the German Cardinal. "We must get back in time for the Conclave."
"You really think the Conclave will go on as scheduled?" Macelli countered.
"It must," huffed Vendhem, "it is all planned. If we delay, this window of opportunity could fade. Ve have the document and counterfeit seal now from the summit. It will assure the 40 bishops access to the Conclave and, with 35 of those votes assured and the 15 other votes, 50 will easily put us over the two-thirds necessity. No, Antonio, ve must return post haste before they take action. I have ze document with a fairly good replication of the Papal seal. Ve must do it now! Mach schnell!"
Vendhem flew open the door of the Mercedes and slammed it. Reluctantly, Macelli got out of the car simultaneously, locking it down. "Wait, Joseph, we must tell the others." Straining his squat neck muscles, he spotted the white limo and waddled back to the side door to inform them of the necessity to get back to the Vatican immediately. Slowly the window rolled down to reveal the concerned, cadaver-like face of Edwin Blix.
"Y'all thank this is gonna clear up soon, Tony?" Blix drawled, a threatening tone to his voice.
"Scusi, no, Senor. That is why Josef and I are going to walk back and--"
"Hold on a minute, fat boy," Blix berated. "We ain't walkin' and we ain't waitin.' Ah got a chopper comin' any minute now."
"That is great," Macelli wiped the sweat from his sagging jowls. "We may have a problem. We cannot reach the Grabe fraulein or Senor Serrano or --"
"Ah'm havin' the same concern. Ah can't reach Collier or Ans and Soto. That ain't good, yah heah?"
Macelli nodded nervously. Why did this crude Texan intimidate him so? He was a prelate of the Church and yet Blix treated him like nothing more than a house-boy. Such impudence.
Dateline: Vatican City - Bronze Doors - November 6, 1:20 p.m.
Unnoticed in the evacuation was a simple prelate that had slipped back into the Vatican via the Portone di Bronzo. Only one guard was on duty, as the bishop came into the light.
"Que diable, Mon Dieu. Terrible," Dr. Makuta Ogidi expressed in French to the Guard.
"Oui, mon pere," the guard acknowledged.
"Outside ze are worried about looters, so I come in and go through this way to the Chapel." Ogidi explained.
"Very well. You have credentials," the guard asked.
"Oui. Ici." Makuta handed the guard a passport which confirmed he was Bishop Bantu Nukumba, Auxiliary Bishop of Zaire.
Satisfied, the guard returned the passport. "You are free to roam, your Excellency. Ciao."
Having passed this hurdle, Ogidi hurried up the marble staircase of the Scala Pia toward the Papal Quarters where he could change identities and resume his mission. As he reached the Cortile di San Damaso, he heard voices in the distant. Not sure who they were, Makuta ducked behind the same statue he had hid Stephen from sure detection a few hours before. As the source of the voices came into view, Ogidi's fears were allayed. It was Stephen and another gentleman. Whoever he was, he must be friendly. Believing he was safe, Makuta emerged from the stone shelter.
Stephen recognized him immediately. "Dr. Ogidi. Thank God you're safe."
"Barely, Stephen, barely." Makuta exhaled.
"The German nun Grabe is dead. She was the Basilisk - erh, one of them," Stephen tried to explain.
"Beware. One dies, another arises," noted Ogidi.
"That's not really very promising," Colin remarked.
"No, it's not. But, forgive me, Colin. This is Dr. Makuta Ogidi. Doctor, this is Colin Rembert from GNS in Australia."
"Please to meet you, your Excellency," Colin smiled, extending his hand.
"I am not really a bishop, Mr. Rembert. A necessary disguise, I assure you."
"Really?" Colin was impressed. "Could've fooled me, mate."
"Things are not always what they may seem," Ogidi said dryly, "especially in these times, my friend."
Dateline: Rome - Traffic jam along Corso Vittorio Emmanuel - November 6, 1:30 p.m.
While the Cardinals, who had been taken to the Lateran, were reboarding the tourist copter for a return trip to the Vatican, and as the news chopper was depositing Swiss Guards Lieutenant Alexis Geraud, Sergeant Rene Gervase and Corporal Romuald Menthauen safely back on the roof of the courtyard adjacent to the Apostolic Palace, another whirlybird was landing in the midst of the stalled traffic on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel. With all the commotion and honking, the noise of the helicopter had snuck up on many until the swirl of wind swept through, creating a gusting wind tunnel. The bird settled onto the tops of four cars, its runners straddling two at a time. Immediately Blix, Kiang, Vendhem, Macelli, Renschausen, and Eislaume climbed up on top of the limo and boarded while the bottleneck of drivers leaning on their horns could do nothing. As soon as the last one had squeezed inside, the copter lifted up, leaving a litany of curses and swirling dust behind.
Dateline: Rome - Turret Room in Castle Sant'Angelo - November 6, 1:33 p.m.
The trip through the labyrinth known as the Leonine Wall had been quicker than Pat had anticipated.
Like a road traveled more often, the time seems to fly the more one traverses familiar paths. Perhaps it was the gnawing need for a Pall-Mall that kept Gallagher moving swiftly. He had not had a cigarette in over 6 hours and his edginess was beginning to show, offset only by the comfort of having Corrie with him and the reliable entourage of Cardinal Zachmunn and his trusted Swiss Guard Captain Royce Schuster.
A sigh of joy and relief escaped their lungs as they entered the room. Pope Clement XV was sitting up straighter, sturdy bandages around his chest, and his eyes open. Doctor Giuseppe Ghislieri had done wonders. Niki was resting across the room and sprung to his feet when he heard the troupe approaching.
"Patrick, Your Eminence," Niki beamed, "He is better."
"Deo Gratias," expressed Gregory as he and Captain Schuster rushed over to the Holy Father.
"Nik, may I introduce you to the chauffeur we both saw," Pat chuckled as he wrapped his arm warmly around Corrie's shoulders. "This is Corrie, my Corrie."
"Delighted to meet you, Corrie." A puzzled look showed on the Greek priest's face. "But how did--?"
"That's a long story," Gallagher sighed as Corrie moved away closer to the Pope, while Pat continued. "I still don't have all the details, but that can wait. We brought you some nourishment. How's His Holiness doing?"
"Much better, Pat, much better," Fr. Andriopoulos assured. "He is still confused about what all has happened."
"That figures. We all are and, for the most part, we've been conscious during it all."
"I'm ready to record whatever he has to say."
"Excellent, you have a computer that will work with your Reflector card." Niki recognized.
"Not only that," Pat beamed, "but Cardinal Zachmunn's got a contraption there that has recorded the events of the past two hours so the Holy Father can see what happened."
"Marvelous," exclaimed Niki as all three walked toward the Holy Father, now surrounded by Dr. Ghislieri, His Eminence, and Captain Royce Schuster. In deference to the Pontiff's stature and her feelings of unworthiness in the presence of so great a figure, Corrie stood farther back in total awe. It had been a week ago that she had witnessed from the cozy, comfortable confines of Ben O'Fallon's Crooked Spigot Bar and Grill, the annihilation of the Holy Father and a million other souls. It had been the last time she had seen Pat. Now here she was not only reunited with Pat but in the very presence of the Sovereign Pontiff, a mere four feet away from the Vicar of Christ who was miraculously alive. Goosebumps surged through her body, as Pat rejoined her and put his comforting arm around her. She cuddled closer to him, strengthened and reassured by his embrace.
Gregory had followed Colin's instructions expertly and within seconds, thanks to the technology of the Penultimate, they were all watching the evacuation and subsequent explosions projected on the big screen; a surface that for five centuries had only served as a stone wall.
As they watched, Pat grimaced about all that had happened. "Cara Mia, when I get back I'm gonna give Vic the best story, first hand. I'm gonna expose 'em all."
Corrie grasped his hand, squeezing it tightly while whispering to him. "Vic's dead and the Metroplex Mirror building was leveled to the ground. Everything gone just like the Field of Abraham and here at the Vatican."
"No," was all Pat could express. "Not Vic. How?"
"Blix," Corrie uttered his name with such disgust. "I was there at his mansion. He was devoured trying to kill the beast. The Basilisk does exist, Pat. Blix is the pure evil. I was able to escape from him by eluding his lackeys Ans and Soto. Thank God I was able to contact Fr. Navarro. Oh, I still can't believe it. I thought I would be killed for sure." She could no longer contain herself as she collapsed in his arms, weeping anew.
While explosions pounded out on the stone wall in vivid detail for all in the room to view anew from Colin's Penultimate, Pat clenched his fist and gritted his teeth. "I don't know how, Cara Mia, but somehow, someway we're gonna win. Blix is gonna get his. The Devil will get his due, I promise ya."
Dateline: Behind the Sistine Chapel - November 6, 1:40 p.m.
The tourist helicopter carrying 18 Cardinals of the Church and a few prelates who had devoted all their efforts to preserving the Holy Eucharist, now safely protected in the tabernacles of the Lateran, settled down on the dormant winter grass adjacent to the Sistine Chapel. Debris could be seen directly south, but the back side of St. Peter's and the north side of the great Basilica which connected to the Sistine were untouched as the red-robed passengers disembarked and disappeared through a door leading to the Cortille della Sentinella.
Dateline: On the outskirts of St. Peter's Square - November 6, 1:45 p.m.
Another chopper approached the Holy See. This one was an unfriendly for aboard were those who had blasphemed their Creator and long ago pledged eternal loyalty to mammon. This moment the rage of the Legion was legion.
"Goddamm! The Basilica is still standin' What the hell happened?" blurted a furious Blix.
"I - I - I don't understand," Vendhem stuttered, grasping for some answer to why the whole southern section of the Vatican was nothing but rubble while all other complexes were still standing.
"Something went terribly wrong," Macelli rationalized. "If Elena set the coordinates everything should have gone."
"Yeah, the whole damn thing!" bellowed Blix.
"Ve must proceed with the Conclave immediately," urged a nervous Vendhem, "before they discover the source, if they have not already."
"Those candles Ah sent shoulda taken out that blasted church, too," complained Edwin bitterly. "What the hell is happenin' heah, gentlemen?"
"The Master will be livid," interpolated Renschausen.
"I believe we must proceed with the alternate plan," the Chinese Kiang strongly suggested as the helicopter settled down on the flagstone surface of St. Peter's Square.
"No!" Vendhem insisted demonstratively, "Ve must do as the Master wills. That is to see first to my election and then all of this is minor. It vill not matter."
"Waell, it matters to me, pahdner," Blix's impatience with the ineptitude of those assigned to carry out the tasks had fueled his blood pressure. He was never one to accept mediocrity. "Listen, you get that done raht now, y'ah heah?"
"Ja voll, mein herr," Josef pandered. "Ve have the document. It vill be only a matter of hours before the bishops are admitted and a few more hours at the most until I am elected."
"You are sure of this, Monsieur?" Gestarde Eislaume's tone, for the first time, showed signs of doubt.
Macelli sought to quickly allay their fears. "Si. We will call a news conference and gather all into the Sistine. We know what we are doing. I have not spent thirty years in these wretched robes for nothing, gentlemen."
"Well, y'all better git it done or else," Blix was adamant. "Find Grabe and Serrano. Ah've gotta find mah men. Ah don't know if they got trapped in that there mess or if they're somewhere hidin'. Either way, ah've gotta find 'em. So do what ya gotta do. If ah don't heah from y'all before nine tonight, we'll see y'all at the palace in Iraq in the mornin'. We cahn't have any more of this foul-ups if yah get mah drift." The patronizing nods of most, who were fearful of his wrath, indicated clearly Blix was in charge and had gotten his message through. "Got it? Good. Adios, amigos."
Vendhem was the first off, followed by the bumbling girth of Macelli who plopped onto the cobblestone makeshift tarmac. Blix and the rest stayed aboard as the chopper lifted straight up and banked south as the Metroplex Mirror Publisher scanned the area with high-powered binoculars for signs of Ans, Soto, Collier or the Limo. He would search for another ten minutes as the gray helicopter circled the area and then widened its circumference until finally the limo would be spotted by the great granite Wedding Cake monument, away from the mass of people that still had not dispersed on Via della Concilliazione and along the Tiber and side streets leading away from Vatican City.
The Legion was desperately trying to regroup, They had not yet realized the depletion in their ranks or the numerous victories of the resistance. Only a few were actually aware of where things stood.
Though it was true the Master's disciples were still in the dark as to what had happened, the Master himself was not. Nothing would stand in his way from finally taking the form of the Devil himself in the coronation of the prince of the world on the Field of Abraham in less than 24 hours! Nothing!
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