"...upon this rock I will build My Church, and
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Matthew 16: 18
As the midday sun stretched its warming rays to encompass the whole of Rome against the beaten-back November norther, three helicopters approached from the east toward the bend in the Tiber. From the pilot's viewpoint, the exodus from the Vatican below resembled ants scurrying in all directions away from an unknown danger, a definite deadly peril.
Just as the wax melted within the wings of the mythical Icarus when he fluttered too close to the sun, so also the deadly explosives, imbedded in the wax candles inside the Basilica, were a harbinger of the potential for destruction. Unbeknownst to most, more deadly candles were stored in the crypt and the storage room of the Nervi Hall...all omens of impending doom. Like the solar rays that brought Daedalus' son crashing into the turbulent waves below, the heat of the blast from the coffins beneath the modern St. Martha's Palace and St. Charles' Palace and the charges within the candles could bring those buildings, along with connecting edifices like the Nervi Hall, St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel, the Apostolic Palace and the Bernini Colonnade to dust. All hoped no human would be trapped in the fiery ruin as the evacuation of Vatican City continued. It was conducted in as orderly a fashion as possible, under the circumstances.
In New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo and all major metropolitan media capitals of the world consternation, confusion and anger was reaching a fever pitch as the powerful Global NetSat satellite continued to scramble all signals in being the lone voice out of Rome. There would be hell to pay, they threatened, for this commandeering monopoly of the televised medium. In truth, Rembert would become known as a pioneer of emergency broadcasting since radio had always provided for such instances, but television rarely. Most likely Colin Rembert realized this when he made the split decision to take action, but now he had less fear of world powers for he had understood a far, far more devastating power and only by aligning with the resisters could he help weaken that enormous energy of evil.
From a bird's-eye view of the scene below, while masses of humanity moved slowly in an undulating ribbon away from the Vatican, on the other side of the Apostolic Palace, sheltered by four stories of mortar, marble and stone, a vehicle had glided to a stop behind the building. A man and woman had exited the car and disappeared into the building. Stephen and Corrie were totally unaware of the evacuation in the Square as he led her towards the Papal Quarters. In the dark corridor of the Leonine Wall, Dr. Ghislieri and his American guide picked up their step still quite a distance from the ailing Pontiff and Fr. Niki Andriopoulos.
On the far west side of St. Peter's, from the radio room in the Vatican Railway Station, Pietro Ciappi had reached Dominic Nicolosi and updated him on the danger and time. Nicolosi had reached the ravine where the grade curved up. Three of the railroad workers had jumped off, switching the rails as Nicolosi had continued to chug upward, steeper and steeper until he had reached a level portion of the incline. Within five minutes the few men left on the train would uncouple the two box cars. All they would need was the signal from the switchmen below and they would be ready to roll. With Pietro's duties completed, he had already hastened out of the station and had scurried up Via del Seminario Eliopico towards the far west end of the Vatican grounds where he could take shelter in the higher regions of the Lourdes Gardens.
Inside St. Peter's, immediately after abruptly concluding the Funeral Mass, Cardinal Mendoza had instantaneously assigned tasks to those he could trust right there in the sanctuary. Cardinals Zachmunn, Kabwela, Strovinksy, Bondi, and Wetherby had been willing and competent generals. Cardinals Clemente Gregorio Bondi and Thomas Wetherby had marshaled 12 acolytes, 80 priests and bishops, and 60 members of the Sistine Choir to gather up six candles each from their holders flanking each coffin, and follow the other Cardinals out. Eighteen of the Cardinals did the same, each person carrying six candles in their arms. They all followed swiftly through the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
While the candles were being collected, Gregory had sent two guards with flashlights to retrieve the crates of candles the fallen Legion guards had deposited in the crypt last night. Shortly, they had returned with the cartons, following the rest toward the far end of the courtyard.
While all, who were fleeing this ancient and venerable house of God, had feared for their lives, the deacon Cardinal Mbuta Celestin Kabwela, along with Polish Prince of the Church Cardinal Kazimierz Strovinsky and the Australian prelate Cardinal Malachi Chester Lewiston did all they could to preserve the Bread of Life. With the help of more priests and bishops, each had gathered up the undistributed consecrated Hosts in the various ciboriums, and, with the rest of the hierarchy and helpers, had exited through the Blessed Sacrament Chapel under the Scalia Regia and into the Borgia Courtyard, then through a portal that led to the Belvedere Courtyard where the entire College of Cardinals and entourage, carting the candles, had continued northward toward the Pigna Courtyard that fronted the Egyptian Museum on the northwest end of Vatican City and hopefully out of harm's way.
Colin Rembert had kept in constant touch with his band of reporters with their hand-held Penultimate cameras at strategic locations to televise the emergency evacuation in order to aid those present as well as keeping the world in touch through Global NetSat. With the removal of all congregants going well, Rembert had remained in the Basilica - a trooper to the end. He was more concerned for the welfare of the Cardinals and those few still fleeing the premises. He had been an immense help to the evacuation process, offering Cardinal Zachmunn whatever help he could provide.
Captain Schuster had returned with six more guards to carry Riage Benziger's coffin out. Once this had been assured, Cardinal Mendoza, who like the noble captain of a ship, had remained until all were out, was still in full vestment. Assuring that all had vacated the Basilica, the Spanish prelate had accompanied the pall bearers and Colin Rembert out through the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and towards the Belvedere Courtyard with Riage's body in tow inside the Papal Bier.
Just prior to Mendoza's departure, Cardinal Zachmunn had made one final sweep to make sure all candles had been removed and all had vacated the premises. Twelve minutes and counting. They had to get out now!
Gregory had realized Sister Bridie, and possibly Stephen, were still in the Papal Quarters. To make sure they were safe he took the sturdy flashlight from the guards once they had recovered all the cartons of deadly candles below and, as they headed toward the courtyard with their deadly cargo, Gregory and his noble escort Captain Royce Schuster had taken off toward the same tunnel the Archbishop, Stephen and Sister Bridie had traveled last night from the crypt to the Papal Sacristy. They still had ten minutes. This time Gregory had his nitroglycerine pills with him as they had passed the NO ENTRATA sign and had cast out into the deep beneath the abandoned Basilica. Cardinal Zachmunn hoped and prayed that he and this loyal Swiss Guard could make it in time to save them and all other living beings before the seat of Rome came crashing down.
Realizing the inherent priorities, Colin had used his wiles and pull to marshal three helicopters. One was a local news chopper, another a tourist copter and the other a U.N. military Osprey. The latter two had just alighted in an open area of the Pigna courtyard where the dangerous candles had been loaded quickly onto the Osprey, while those carrying the Blessed Sacrament had boarded the tourist chopper with their precious treasure of the Body of Christ.
The news chopper had landed in a small area between the Colonnade and the Nervi Hall.
Dateline: Vatican City - Nervi Hall - November 6, 11:51 a.m.
Corporal Menthauen had tried every code and method he could to override the timer. Nothing was working. Beads of sweat dripped off his brow. Frustration coursed through his veins as he slammed his fist down on the table.
"Romuald," a nervous Sergeant Gervase reprimanded him, "we are running out of time."
"Do you not think I know that, Rene. I have tried everything."
"Then perhaps we need to admit there is nothing we can do."
"I cannot abandon my duty. Never."
"Mon frere, I believe you have no choice," Lieutenant Geraud exclaimed as he re-entered the room. "We have a helicopter waiting just outside. We have got to get this detonator away from here. Perhaps that will stop the devastation. N'est pas?"
"We have no other choice, Lieutenant?" the corporal asked, tears flooding his eyes.
"I am sorry," Alexis consoled him, "we must move now!"
Menthauen closed the case and tucked it under his arm, following Gervase and Geraud to the chopper where the three Swiss Guards boarded and lifted skyward, between the Colonnade and the Pauline Hall, stirring up dust that swirled below. Soon they were away, heading for the coast, as Romuald reopened the case, trying desperately to crack the code.
Dateline: Vatican City - Pigna Courtyard - November 6, 11:55 a.m.
With the last of the deadly combustible crates safely on board the idling Osprey, the pilot got the thumbs up sign from one of the guards. Time to go. It lifted skyward and roared toward the west with the swiftness of a falcon beaming in on its prey. It had less than five minutes to reach the coast and dump the deadly cargo of wax explosives in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Seconds were more precious than bonuses at this point as it sped on the wisp of metallic blades whirring at breakneck speed, a blur as it passed above traffic and midday merchants on the outer regions of western Rome.
Two minutes later those bearing the Blessed Sacrament in the dozens of ciboriums were safely aboard the tourist chopper as its blades revved to full throttle and the epilimmion effect of the swirling wind sent several still on the ground sprawling to the grassy turf as the helicopter hoisted straight up and banked southeastward toward the Lateran Basilica. The ciboriums would be safely deposited in the tabernacle of this most sublime and historic church with its origins dating back to the time of the great Emperor Constantine. It had long been the official church for the Pope of Rome even though most, since the 14th century, had customarily resided on Vatican Hill.
The cardinals and clerics on board the chopper could see, from their vantage point, that the massive flood of humanity was now inching closer to the Tiber. Every street was clogged, but St. Peter's Square was almost emptied. Cars had been abandoned as man, woman and child ran for their life away from the place they had all come to with such heavy heart. Who were these monsters who would destroy the most sacred seat of God?
Dateline: North of Rome in the steep foothills of the Apennines - November 6, 11:56 a.m.
The brakemen had been having a devil of a time trying to unhitch the box cars. The handle wouldn't turn, no matter how hard they pulled on it. The hydraulic suction between the engine and cars was locked tight. Dominic disembarked from the engine room, loping on a limp with a massive wrench in his gnarled fist as he came rumbling to the side where the two brakemen were enmeshed in a frantic blame-game as tension and tempers were reaching the boiling point.
"Fermatevi!" bellowed Nicolosi. "Abbastanza!"
Both men shrunk in shame as he parted the two with the heavy wrench, which he clamped onto the fittings with a heavy thud and started twisting. Just a few minutes left and he was sweating profusely. In the distance below he could hear the frantic shouts of "Fretta! Presto!"
The rust and dirt parted. One could see threads as he continued to twist frenetically with the two brakemen adding no support as they continued to grumble and pace. Finally the rusted bolt came loose and Dominic, dripping like a rag reached down and yanked it, along with the lever. The sound of escaping air signaled success. Time was of the essence as Nicolosi waved for the other two to push. The three men braced their heels on the wooden tie and leaned into the iron-sided back of the cars pushing with every ounce of their being. Slowly a few inches, then a foot and then it was rolling on its own, reaching the crest, like a runaway roller-coaster it hurtled downward on the tracks that had been switched so it would roll right off the rails into the deep ravine below with seconds to spare, if that. The switchmen at the bottom of the hill dove for cover as it raced pell-mell towards them.
Dateline: Coastline of Rome - November 6, 11:59 a.m.
Both the Osprey carrying the deadly wax explosives and the news chopper carrying the Swiss Guards Lt. Alexis Geraud, Sergeant Rene Gervase and Corporal Romuald Menthauen had reached the coastline and were heading out towards sea a quarter mile apart. Menthauen had tried everything. Nothing had detoured the appointed clock as it reached 30 seconds and counting.
"Dump it now, Corporal," blistered Lt. Geraud. "That's an order."
Romuald wanted to object, to find that last, unknown equation that would stop the clock with just a few seconds to go just like so many movies had portrayed, taking the viewer to the brink. But this was no movie. This was very real and they were at the brink. Menthauen slumped his shoulders as he slammed the case shut and Gervase heaved it out into the air.
At the same time the Osprey had unloaded most of the candles with everyone on board making sure all wax sticks were accounted for. A lone fishing boat below posed a problem. With seconds to spare the pilot banked south away from the trawler before dropping the last shipment.
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, seventeen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.